Bruce Springsteen - The Boy Least Likely To, Coriky, The Slow Readers Club. (And That's A Sentence!)
It's been a good week for listening this week, filled with lots of accessible pop including something from one of my favourite bands, The Boy Least Likely To.
Christmas is approaching faster than Lewis Hamilton on the home straight. Gone are the days for most people when recorded music might be identified, wrapped under the tree. It's only the vinyl lovers amongst us who are likely to experience the thrill of a gift wrapped in that tell tale size and shape. For everyone else though, streaming offers the chance to try out so much that's new, and I hope a flavour of that comes out in these reviews.
Talking of Christmas, you may like 'Christmas Crackers and Party Poppers', which is all about Christmas songs and links to a Pop In the Real World Spotify playlist. You can access it on the Home Page. With luck there will be something there to make wrapping presents, last minute turkey preparations and that moment of realisation that you've forgotten a key present just as the shops close a little bit easier.
A quick reminder about how I categorise the albums here.
The 'Album of the Week' is usually, but not always, the record I've enjoyed the most. Occasionally, as it is this week, it's a record that had me thinking most or wanting to talk about it. And it's probably made it onto my list of records to look out for next time I'm on line or in the shops.
The 'Commended' category is for records that I've particularly enjoyed during the week and would like to share.
'Good Job' contains any record that met reasonable expectations. It's consistent throughout and will be one to return to, if not on a daily basis. It's quite possible that others will rate it higher than me.
The albums in 'Promising Underachievers' all have something going for them, perhaps in individual tracks, but it's not sustained across the whole album. It may not succeed on the terms it seems to set itself, or it may be a disappointment because I feel that the artist could and should have done better.
And 'I'll Pass. Thanks' is for those albums that simply didn't work for me. I may have picked up on them from a review that I misunderstood or was a touch misleading, or I've taken a punt on something that didn't pay off. I won't be returning to it. That doesn't mean it's a 'bad' album. If there are never albums in this category it might mean that I'm playing safe.
Each week I'll include the taster tracks in the Pop In the Real World Taster Tracks Spotify playlist. This will eventually include all the taster tracks for the previous four weeks. I hope that by listening to this you can form a view if I'm reflecting your thoughts or if we have very different tastes.
The playlist can be accessed at https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7cSveL7NpVp1xgrKxPe4av?si=SkFlSnvySeuYFpgG0WJFmA or via the Spotify link on the Home Page. I'm looking how to make the playlist more accessible to non Spotify users too. Watch this space.
Album of the Week
Rise : The Underclass
Every now and then a record comes along from nowhere, and takes you back to a time of life that, in your mind, you've immortalised as a golden time personally, and for music.
This record takes me back to 1980, and to taking the first steps of building my own life as an 18/19 year old. It takes me back to the sound of the Beat and early UB40. It's the sound of dubby ska before it became a bandwagon and a generic template for any band running out of ideas to sit alongside the 'Bo Diddley' song or the 'waltz' song. It sounds pitch perfect musically and it hits the nostalgia bullseye. Every track is as catchy as two velcro straps. They're a Sociology class set to music - ripe with social realism, political awareness and absolutely first class tunes. Although it's clear where its roots lie it sounds completely fresh.
Here's the thing though, this is the thing. Wonderful though they are, this band may be unsigned. I hope that if that is indeed the case it changes in 2021.
Taster Track : Life Without You
91 Days In Isolation : The Slow Readers Club
We're seeing a flurry of socially distanced albums being released now. It's not surprising really. What else is a musician to do if they can't tour and can't hit the studio? Whilst applauding to efforts to meet the social distance challenge the bottom line is still : "Is the album any good?"
Well, working under these conditions has clearly been good for the Slow Readers Club. They've produced one of their best albums. It's a triumph.
These songs don't sound as if anything has been lost in the new recording process. On the contrary, they sound more purposeful and less bloated. Tracks such as opener 'Barricades' and 'Yet Again' provide reassuring evidence that the band of old are still there, delivering their big stadium anthems. But tracks such as 'Everything I Own' and 'Lost Summer' - talk about an apt title for Summer 2020 - are more contemplative that we're used to, and all the better for it.
Until now, Slow Readers Club , haven't quite broken through. Covid-19 could have destroyed what momentum they had. Instead it's inspired them to take a sizeable step forward and I hope they reap the benefits of this next year.
Taster Track : Lost Summer
Someone New - Helena Deland
I picked up on this from the 'Nothing But Hope and Passion' Top 50 year end chart for 2020. (https://nbhap.com/sounds/end-of-the-year-list-the-best-songs-of-2020) There are a number of good sounding albums included that I'll come to in the next few weeks.
I'm won over by this album despite it being another one for the pile marked 'songs about failing relationships'. It is intense in places but although it is deeply personal it remains accessible. It's sombre in places but never dull.
The best tracks such as 'Something New', 'Smoking At the Gas Station' and 'Dog' start from sparse beginnings but unfold a fuller electronica sound that shows an appreciation of what makes for great pop music.
Taster Track : Dog
Letter To You : Bruce Springsteen
Oh my! This is the best Bruce Springsteen album for a long time. It features the unmistakable sound of the E Street Band, but is billed as a solo Springsteen record. That makes sense. It's a very personal record as Bruce reflects on loss, and the man he's become, in comparison to the dreams he sang about in his 20s. It's a reflective record, even frightened in places, as some of the titles suggest ("Ghosts', 'Last Man Standing', 'The Power of Prayer', 'I'll See You In My Dreams' and 'Song For Orphans').
All that is commendable, but it needs to be backed by good songs with stirring tunes. Letter To You delivers fully on that score. 'One Minute You're Here' could have come straight from the Tunnel of Love album - a simple, strummed opening that grows into an aching, string backed song of uncomprehending loss. 'Ghost' and 'Burning Train' are classic Springsteen. The standout track is 'House of A Thousand Guitars' which is epic, and hopeful. It's amongst the best songs of his career and I think you need a heart of stone not to be affected by it. Even if you don't like Springsteen you should hear this song.
It could well be that, like Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, Springsteen is on the brink of a late career renaissance. I hope so.
Taster Track : House of A Thousand Guitars
Ross : Low Roar
Low Roar offer another soul bearing record, best listened to at 3-4 in the morning when you don't want to wake anyone up. It's mellow, and it builds its mood across the whole album.
The songs work by force of repetition. Without being unkind, they sound like a long, night time motorway journey. There's something soothing about the regular passing of motorway bridges, and the array of lights stretching into the distance. This music has the same effect, lulling you into its world. And just like motorway, the end justifies the means. (Just be sure to open the window and stretch after a few tracks!)
That's the effect. What does it sound like? It's understated electronica for the most part, wearing an acoustic overcoat. '222' has a lullaby feel and shows the mix of acoustic and lullaby layers to good effect.
Taster Track : I'll Make You Feel
The Wrong End of A Rainbow : The Boy Least Likely To
After all that subdued intensity and reflections on loss, thank the Pop Puppet Masters for The Boy Least Likely To. I have a confession. I love this band too much to be critically objective. Why? How about the following for starters.
They're homespun, optimistic, naive, charming, childlike, funny and fun. There's no one else quite like them. If there were, they couldn't be as good because, in their field, The Boy Least Likely To are perfect. And I stand by that for this collection which is one of B sides and rarities. I can best describe the sound of their music as Country music for the English suburbs.
Their attitude is summed up in the title "When I Grow Up, I Want To Be A Boy Again." Their music is the soundtrack to the perfect childhood Summer, filtered through adult disappointment and disillusionment. I suspect that listeners fall in two camps - those who are irritated by it and those who love it. But please, don't make the mistake of thinking that you are too mature, too grown up or too cool for this. When they started they were on Rough Trade!
Taster Track : It Could Have Been Me
Clean Kill : Coriky
Coriky have mastered the art of providing intelligent and aware guitar based fuzzy and aggressive music that is as capable of tip toeing ahead as it is of letting rip.
'Clean Kill' is excellent, high on the list of contenders for song of the year. 'Too Many Husbands' is the closest I've heard to muscial prodding to get the message across. Throughout there are lots of different rhythms to keep it interesting. 'Shedileebop' is an example of this. And 'Inauguration Day' ends with a singalong. It will be great live.
Taster Track : Clean Kill
Cool To Be Kind : Sunbirds
First, I'll award a bonus point to Sunbirds for a clever album title.
Sunbirds are the latest descendants of The Beautiful South, via the first generation descendant The South. That's important because it gives you a strong flavour of what to expect and will appeal to the same, albeit older, audience. It's timeless, slightly unfashionable pop done very well. It's less cynical but there's a darker, sadder side here to replace it. Lyrically it may not be quite as sharp as its forerunners, although it has its moments, but musically it sounds better. The guitar, particularly, is nicely played throughout in a variety of styles. (Shout out for Phil Barton!) 'Insert Answer Here' bears that out. 'Stars Still Shine' is poignant, a song about refusing to accept less than you aimed for or, possibly, a song about convincing yourself that you haven't accepted less than you aimed for.
Taster Track : Stars Still Shine
I'm pleased to say you've all done very well. Except you Trevor. See me afterwards, please.
I'll Pass. Thanks
I Like It Here - Trevor Beld Jiminez
The word that floated into mind while listening to this is 'anodyne'. I realised that I thought I knew what it meant but had never looked up. So I turned to Google and found their definition which says: " Not likely to cause offence or disagreement and somewhat dull." That sums this record up perfectly.
This American soft singer-songwriter material is unimprovable for what it is but it's polished so much that any rough edges have long disappeared. It's the ultimate in proficiency, a comfort blanket but one that smothers.
Jiminez's sincerity isn't in doubt but it's a little irritating, like the person who always says and does the right thing but never cracks to let you see through to the real personality beneath.
Taster Track : Long Gone