Bill Evans Trio, Ichiko Aoba, Ingredient, Junior Boys, Leland Whitty, Marlody, Mick's Jaguar, SCUDFM,
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Dawn in the Adan : Ichiko Aoba
Ichiko is a Japanese folk artist, singing in her native tongue. Her delicate, unobtrusive songs have a quiet beauty that captures peace and tranquility. This is music to feel as much as hear, especially where she samples the sound of water in the tracks.
It's undeniably a little different, but if you can alow yourself to sink into the music, you won't regret or forget it.
Salvation : Mick’s Jaguar
The riff is all in this unreconstructed album of bar room rock and roll. Like the cover picture of mating horses, subtlety is not its forte.
Listening to this is akin to laughing at an inappropriate joke. You know you shouldn’t, but it can still be pretty funny. This album embodies all the male, macho swagger and wild boy gang attitude that should have been swept under the carpet long ago but it sounds undeniably thrilling. It’s Spinal Tap without the intentional humour.
Everything about this album is in the guitars, although I’ll also give you the likelihood of screwed up faces when they play live! Even in the midst of its solos it never loses sight of the riff as the driving force and life blood of the songs. Some band, somewhere in the world will be playing this brand of hard rock in a bar tonight. And the audience will be hurling the choruses back at the band, and be very very drunk on Jack Daniels. They’ll wake up at some point tomorrow feeling as rough as coarse grade sandpaper and know that they had a fantastic time if only they could remember the details.
These songs are set up to be played live on a sawdust and spit flecked stage set just above floor level. ’Molotov Children’ with its chant of “Death to the city!”, ‘5am Somewhere’ and its firm explanation that “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here” or the whisky that’s first on the list of the things you need if you’re paying a visit to ‘Hell’s Gate’ - these are all scenes from a cartoon lifestyle that’s as far from most people’s reality as Narnia or Hogwarts.
The vocalist sounds like every drunken, leather and chain clad, diamond hard Hells Angel you’ve ever seen in a Hollywood movie. He’s taken singing lessons somewhere along the way from Lemmy. The drummer keeps going, making sure too that his cowbells get a run out. It’s strange how the tapping of a cowbell shouts rock and roll like nothing else.
Influences are everywhere. There’s barely anything else. Try Judas Priest’s ‘Breaking The Law’, Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ or a turbocharged AC/DC.
This is a record of riff based guitar songs that don’t hang around. It’s pumped up music for long drives down straight motorways and, every once in a while, it’s great.
Taster Track : Molotov Children
.... And The Rest
Waltz For Debby : Bill Evans Trio
Released in 1961, this jazz classic has cemented its reputation as a standard. It’s not pop though.
In the last couple of years I’ve drifted into liking jazz but 21st century jazz, not the Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlies Mingus and Parker brand of serious, proper jazz. Bill Evans is in that company. The jazz I’ve grown to like has more in common with electronica, world music and funk. The legends have remained remote in their Birdland kingdoms.
Back in December I featured a track in the Pop In The Real World advent calendar by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. That prompted a friend’s husband, who in my eyes is a jazz connoisseur, to ask if I’d heard Bill Evans. I have now.
Bill Evans looks like a college lecturer. Appearances can be deceptive though. He died at 51, a victim of addiction to heroin and then cocaine and a refusing treatment for hepatitis.
His music is deceptive too. It’s quiet, calm and soothing even in a live setting. The muffled conversations in the audience add to the ambience. Most striking is the purity captured for each instrument and the sensitivity of Evans’ playing. This album does not contain just the flavour of jazz but its essence. It’s like an undiluted, full strength espresso - the real deal.
What I’ve learned from ‘Waltz For Debby’ is that this jazz is all about small variations. You hear it within pieces and between them. This version includes alternatives for several tracks, not as an added bonus but as an integral part of the running order. It highlights control and that, together with the subtlety and tone, is its strength.
But there’s a problem. It’s me. I’m a jazz lightweight.
Weirdly, while this is playing, my thoughts wander away from the music, not into it. True fans tell me that there’s magic in jazz but it eludes me. I see their entranced expressions and their beatific half smiles but I can’t tune in to what they’ve tuned into. If you’re not experiencing the magic they hear, you’re left with some pretty piano, some pattered drumming that sounds like static, a lot of bass notes and a partially distracted audience. It’s infuriating.
There’s no doubt that Bill Evans is a master at his art but the secret to his wizardry is a secret I can’t access and leads to a club I cannot join.
Taster Track : Waltz For Debby
Windswept Adon : Ichiko Aoba
Ichiko is a Japanese folk artist, singing in her native tongue. Her delicate, unobtrusive songs have a quiet beauty that captures peace and tranquility.
As all good prologues should, the opening ‘Prologue’ sets out what to expect. There’s water and wind chimes to take you from the modern world into the natural one. There’s something like a chattering dolphin engaging with siren voices to take you further, into the magical world of folk fairy tales. And then there’s Achiko’s voice, speaking rather than singing on this track but warm and reassuring. It’s a lovely start.
If it sounds a little New Age, it’s not. It’s a portal to a different world, one that allows you to feel the music rather than simply hear it. It allows your mind to float with it, while your body has no need to follow. These songs soothe like a lullaby, capturing the moments just before sleep or the moments just after waking but before the modern world kicks in.
It’s an intimate achievement that sounds as if the songs are written for and sung just to you. Occasionally they can sound a little dull but it’s dullness you can live with, like enforced bed rest or serving as the soundtrack to a languid foreign language film.
Very little in these songs is emphasised. They drift by as if heard in passing outside a tent. ‘Sagu Palm Song’ is the closest we come to a western song. The prominence given to the acoustic guitar comes as a jolt, but a welcome one. You hear the melodies in these songs as you might see pictures in the clouds. Lose sight of them and they are gone.
The album ends with ninety seconds or so of gently lapping waves, returning to its starting point as surely as the tide. The journey between the two is something you don’t have to understand, just feel.
Taster Track : Dawn In The Adan
Ingredient : Ingredient
This album’s avowed intent is to keep things calm. It’s partially successful.
It’s a record that you shouldn’t rush to judge too quickly because its impact is cumulative. If you were to listen to it on vinyl, Side 2 would be the side you’d remember and grow to love. You’d only get to that point though by sitting through Side 1.
What’s the difference? Well, the first four tracks out of eight lull you successfully but they lack something. It isn’t the art of noise, although at times it sounds a little like them, it’s the art of quiet. It’s a side where the musicians have thought about what might work but they’ve not necessarily felt it. It’s the whispered wind effects at the end of ‘Variation’ that promise more than they can deliver.
I don’t think vocals help a listener to relax fully. They demand attention. They’re saying something that might be important. Strip out the vocals from these early songs though and you don’t have much left to make an impact. The music is pulled towards corporate video or nature documentary soundtracks.
There’s a sense of missed opportunities. The sax on ‘Raindrop’ could turn the emotional screws that lure you away from the daily grind and into the music. Instead it sounds inconsequential, a nice touch but not enough to help lift the track into life.
Something happens around the time we reach ‘Photo’. Maybe the early tracks, like a pacesetter in a mid distance running race have brought us to a place where the music can push on to have the desired effect. Maybe the thinking calibrates the music to the ideal number of beats per minute to induce a trance. Maybe the later tracks get a handle on using light and shade or slight changes in volume to better effect. Maybe the chilled House piano on ‘Resurface’ strikes the right notes for chilling.
Listening to this album is like watching birds take off into flight from the waters of a lake. The effort that’s gone into the album is easy to hear, but it’s nearly the case that we don’t get to see the grace of their flight
In January 2023, we need what Ingredient are trying to do. It’s just a pity that they take quite a while to get there.
Taster Track : Photo
Waiting Game : Junior Boys
This Canadian pop band was not what I expected, based on the description in Wikipedia. Take it from me that you can expect subdued electronica that slowly flourishes.
Some albums move, soothe, excite, thrill or disturb me. This one flummoxed me to the extent that I’m not sure if I like it or not, but I’m intrigued enough to give it another go. ‘Waiting Game’ is a good title for the collection. You’re waiting for it to take off. It’s a labour of love that slows down time without bringing the release of a joyful birth any closer.
Opener ‘Must Be all The Wrong Things’ sets the tone with slow moving glacial atmospherics, It’s compelling in its way. There’s clearly a more developed and complex side to them than the ‘Canadian pop’ label suggests.
The music is interesting but difficult, big on effects but less so on melody. Any vocals are heavily treated, their human side suppressed. There’s something vaguely oriental about it in a patient, inscrutable way. Too many tracks, including ‘It Never Occurred to Me’, ‘Night Walk’ and ‘Fidget’ feel and sound like unresolved fragments.
It can be frustrating. ‘Samba On Sama’ contains none of the life you might expect from the title and it brakes just as it begins to build momentum. It draws you in more than most of the tracks here though. ‘Yes’ tentatively dabbles with a more conventional song structure before retreating. Finally, on closing title song ‘Waiting Game’ we get there with a subdued but heartfelt song to a cherished other. It’s a little anticlimactic though begging the question “Is this it?”
Despite all the flaws that strike you on first hearing, this is an album that could eventually work its way under your skin and prove impossible to forget.
Taster Track : Waiting Game
Anyhow : Leland Whitty
There’s lots of jazz in this collection as you’d expect from a leading member of BADBADNOTGOOD - their typography! - but this has a dreamier, almost psychedelic side too.
This isn’t quite a one man show, but during the course of its 29 minute running time and seven tracks Whitty plays the majority of instruments on the album. They include guitar, flute, Wurlitzer, clarinet, violin, viola, saxophone, and synth. If that sounds a little busy, well, it is. There’s an argument for saying that the casual tone struck in the title is carried through to the music too.
This is an album that’s like the man who’s up early and is in the mood to get on with the day. The album is in a hurry but with a light touch and smiling energy. Tracks such as ‘Glass Moon’ build from gentler pastoral moments to a more urban bustle. Perhaps it's the ideal soundtrack for commuting.
In its quieter moments the melodies float away as if wafted on warm currents from dreams. You’re always anticipating though that the band are getting ready to break out.
The jazz feel comes from its irregular time signatures that don’t quite align on a tune such as ‘Svalbard’. It’s a loose record in which the musicians slip and glide between sections. Everything wants to be heard, and everything has its chance to be. None of that’s a bad thing. It adds to the sense of joyful chaos that carriess you through the album.
It feels as if this is music heard from a distance, from a wide screen. Leading elements like melody or the sax emerge having found their way past the mass of strings, woodwind and bass that are also clamouring their way to the front.
The tunes are, if not sweepingly cinematic then, certainly setting the scene for what follows. Amongst Whitty’s many talents is a knack for scores and soundtracks and that experience provides richness to the music here.
‘Anyhow’ is a musical emporium of curiosity and an enjoyable mess of a record.
Taster Track : Windows
I’m Not Sure At All : Marlody
This singer songwriter from Kent has a knack for haunting and haunted timeless folk , that’s simultaneously wrapped in the here and now.
I think I’m working too hard, and have neglected the dusting. That’s the only way I can account for the moistening of eyes during the opening track ‘Summer’. It’s one of the saddest songs I’ve heard, a tale of the loss of a mother sung from the perspective of a small child. The scene is set for an album haunted by memories, and it doesn’t fail to deliver.
These are songs that tell of future ghosts and folk legends. They’re songs that, with a little embellishment, will be sung around a campfire by your great grandchildren to their children. These are new traditional songs that echo laments from the 19th with a thoroughly 21st century sensibility.
This is an album that descends into madness track by track whilst retaining a veneer of polite society. Reminders are present throughout. In ‘Words’ she sings about being the product of a broken mind. “We won’t chase a ghost that doesn’t exist.” she sings in ‘Friends In Low Places’. She means happiness in that line.
Her voice is pure, overflowing with plaintive simplicity. She captures the passion, tumult and emotion in her singing style, changing her voice to a clipped style to suit the tone of ‘Malevolence’.
Lyrically she touches quiet perfection. The line “No I was not lost and I didn’t really want to be a runaway soul.” may not read as anything special but it’s the perfect phrasing for the song with not a syllable out of place. Add in a lovely melody and a tumbling run of a rhythm and you have the album’s standout track.
By training she’s a classical pianist. That shows - the rolling piano is taken straight from the drawing room with its chamber arrangements. Subdued electronica underpins other songs, occasionally supported by the quietest and thinnest of beats. It makes for an eerie listening experience.
This is something sincere and different that’s touched by echoes of the past, musically and in its spirit.
Taster Track : Runaway
Innit : SCUDFM
Destined to polarise opinions, the working class anti-capitalism messages of SCUDFM are, nevertheless, wrapped up in good alternative songs and music.
SCUDFM was the nickname some journalists gave the BBC’s prototype rolling news radio service back in the first Gulf War crisis in 1991. The band that has appropriated that name is also using it to get its political messages across, and they do so in a surprisingly catchy way.
They nail their colours to the mast early on. You feel that their songs flow like a Socialist Workers Party (SWP) meeting agenda. Feminism, persecution of minorities, trade unionist recognition and obscure wars. They’re all there. This is an album for left wing activist students to pose with. It’s the musical entertainment on a flat back truck at an anti-Capitalism mass rally.
SCUDFM operate as a kind of collective, with different band members stepping forward to lead vocals from track to track. There’s something deliberately confrontational and disruptive about them, but it’s all done in a deadpan way laced with humour and a touch of surrealism.
Their songs are crammed with slogans and mantras. If it occasionally sounds like an SWP induction primer set to music it does so in a self aware tongue in cheek way. Inevitably their views dwarf the music. You can’t slip this into a meeting with Tory friends and expect them not to notice, no matter the lounge, singalong quality that softens some of the tracks.
Tuneless vocals sit above inventive music, just as they did with The Fall. Often what starts as a tight looped riff dissolves into an anarchic musical meltdown. There’s something about the later Specials about them too, the deadpan delivery carried along by melodies straight from the community pub singalong. If you’re looking for more up to date influences, they’re a condensed and briefer form of Black Country New Road, shorn of their jazz prog wig outs, or comrades in arms with YardAct.
The most heartening aspect of this album is that there is a place and time in rock for these sentiments and, whether you agree with them or not, that time is now.
Taster Track : One Thing (contains language that might offend)
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