The Advisory Circle, A-Ha, Andre Goncalves and Casper Clausen, Asgeir, Fast De, Poster Paints, Unkle Bob,
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Falling Hard : Poster Paints
One of the great things about pop is the way it continuously throws up new bands who draw on the past and make it fresh. Poster Paints draw on shoegaze and dream pop, add a dollop of pretty melodies and create a sound that you'll be happy to wallow in for hours at a time.
Invisible : Unkle Bob
The indie rock on offer from Unkle Bob is as melodic as it comes, even as its themes tell of jaded disappointment.
Unkle Bob are a Glasgow indie rock band, formed in 2003 before splitting in 2011. They continued as a solo act until 2020 when the original five members came back together to make this album. They’re a tight knit group, sharing the vocals around on different tracks through the album.
You can’t escape the notion that as their dreams of youth faded away, bringing the gang back together was a supportive way to address the reality of grown up disappointments. Writing that makes ‘Invisible’ sound bleak and downbeat but the togetherness gives a warm undertone to what could otherwise be a melancholy album verging on maudlin.
That it isn’t, is also a testimony to the power of melody in their songs. It’s a beacon of light shining through songs about memory, loss and deceit.
Unkle Bob sing big rock ballads not a million miles away from the sound of Snow Patrol before they became over inflated. There’s enough going on beneath the stadium guitars to keep touch with their smaller roots. (In fact, whilst their sound has filled big venues, they’re playing at one of the smallest venues I know in December - St Pancras Old Church.) A better comparison may be Teenage Fanclub, shorn of their optimism and faith in the world but retaining the gift for excellent songs.
Unkle Bob demonstrate that great music can flow from difficult times.
Taster Track : Invisible
... And The Rest
Full Circle : The Advisory Circle
I liked this album of light electronica and its relaxed vibe. It’s extremely moreish but I’m not sure I can explain it easily in a review.
This is straightforward electronica that, in many ways, takes us back to the early days of synthesiser music. It’s not so much composed or written, as programmed.
It’s odd because it’s both inconsequential and enjoyable, like an eavesdropped proposal on a nearby table. There’s a feeling that the music could be playing in an empty room and it wouldn’t matter. It’s a clever version of the test card or contact centre hold music that you don’t mind hanging on for.
It’s clean, bright and shiny, not the muted, sombre sound of a future dystopia. Unlike some electronica it’s definitely music, not ambient sound. It has a life of its own, a pulse that it’s hard to put a finger on. I could spend longer analysing this music and seeking to understand and explain it. Its strength though is that it persuades me it doesn’t matter how it's composed. It's the drifting quality of the music that casts its own spell.
Once heard, its fate is to be enjoyed, but quickly forgotten. Its effect will linger though, drawing you back for second, third, or fourth helpings.
Taster Track : Russian Doll
True North : A-Ha
True North is a pleasant, beautifully produced album of well written songs with an orchestral accompaniment. It’s also the sound of a long established band that has settled comfortably for where they are.
A-Ha have travelled a long way from the glorious MTV synth pop of ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’. Their journey has seen them become the biggest ever band from Norway, knocking stiff competition from Liv Kristine and Dimmu Borger into second and third place respectively! More surprising is that they are in the Guinness Book Of Records for drawing the largest ever paying crowd of 198000 to a concert at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro in 1991. That is genuinely impressive. Their mid career albums saw them seek artistic as well as commercial credibility, occasionally demonstrating that it’s difficult to marry the two. They’ve arrived at a point where they come together every few years to make sumptuous music out of simple songs, often with an orchestra to do justice to them. They’re a big band, and they think big.
It’s not a criticism to say that this sounds like the kind of music played for people who regard music as a lifestyle accessory, listened to on top of the range Bose headphones or, more usually, quietly in the background on specialist hifi systems. It’s expensive and classy, and sounds meaningful but safe. It’s pleasant music of undeniable quality if not distinction.
They’ve not outstayed their welcome because for forty years they’ve released only eleven albums of new material, leaving their loyal fan base wanting more. They’ve also developed a sad but touching willingness to share the benefits of their hard earned experience and wisdom. They’re the elder statesman of pop, wise men with a message. It may be a touch banal but it’s beautifully delivered. ‘I’m In’ is typical, a subdued pick you up building to an epic finish. Several of the tracks seem to stop just short of breaking into a mindfulness session.
There’s a nice touch, almost certainly unintended, in ‘Make Me Understand’. It incorporates the click beat from Village People’s ‘In The Navy’, unwittingly puncturing the earnest nature of the song. The current version of A-Ha couldn’t be further removed from the flamboyant characters of Village People.
It feels as if A-Ha have reached the end point of their musical journey and they’re comfortable with it. They slip down like a rich hot chocolate or a warming fine brandy.
Taster Track : Bluest Of Blue
Aether : Andre Goncalves and Casper Clausen
To call this collection of ambient new classical music difficult is an understatement. To call it enjoyable is more difficult still.
Andre Goncalves is difficult to pin down too. He’s under the radar on Google and is not to be confused with the Brazilian actor with a colourful love life or the 16th / 17th explorer who was part of the expedition that discovered Brazil. Casper Clausen was who drew me to this album as he is a member of Efterklang who can make the most ethereally beautiful music (and some of the least accessible too - Danish opera anyone?)
I found this album a headache to review, and it left me with a headache too. It’s difficult to get a handle on, like a doorknob coated in grease. The opening track sets the tone. It’s full of foreboding organ and heavily treated vocals with little form or structure to the tracks. There’s no, or very little percussion.
It’s not a criticism or slight to say that in regimes that disregard human rights and practise torture, this is the kind of music that is played at ear splitting volume 24/7 to generate sleep deprivation. That’s not the music’s fault. It’s an artistic work of discordant tone.
There are parts of ‘Aether - Part III’ that sound like dripping pipes mutating into harsh synthesiser feedback. The sounds on ‘Aether - Part VI’ are inhuman in places. It’s hard to uncover beauty in these pieces, although there is some respite in ‘Aether- Part V’. It’s a savage and sad beauty though, like a noble animal approaching its death.
If this were a painting it would be Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. If it were a film it would be an art house horror film.
It’s a triumph for any work of art to make an impact, This certainly does that. It leaves you with a sense of trying to wriggle free from something nasty and dangerous or it’s the moment in the dentist’s chair when the pain gets too much.
It’s a triumph for any work of art to leave an impact, This certainly does that. It is a form of music for people who want to be taken out of their comfort zone, challenged to accept and understand something that verges on unpleasant.
It’s not for me.
There aren’t many reviews of ‘Aether’ on line. I found one, on Boomkat Andre Goncalves and Casper Clausen Aether Review. Their reviewer has dug deeper than I wanted to in their attempts to understand it.
Taster Track : Aether - Part V
Time On My Hands : Asgeir
Asgeir’s new collection is a uniquely affecting and beautifully delivered set of songs that is both comforting and emotional.
He may look, and sound, as if he was named after a Norse God, but Asgeir sings with the voice of an angel. His voice takes a little getting used to. It awakens deep emotions and then wraps itself around you protectively. He’s a man not afraid to show his sensitivity, or share personal feelings.
The bigger world, or rather its shortcomings of noise, cheap commercialism and a loss of control, inspires his songs too. ‘Snowblind’ takes the disorienting and panic-inducing impact of losing your bearings as an image for the deeper confusion within. ‘Limitless’ ends the album on a supportive note. Our lives can be transformed by taking solace and perspective from the stars.
The songs are intensely soothing. The melodies ache sweetly. Songs such as ‘Vibrating Walls’ sound deliberately muffled, but this allows his voice to bring colour in the same way that the Northern Lights shine through the night sky or a geyser erupts from barren and rocky terrain.
It’s fair to say that he loses the mood for a couple of songs around ‘Giantess’ but, fortunately, he finds it again within a couple of tracks.
This feels like a record that we need in current times.
Taster Track : Time On My Hands
Sight Inside : Fast De
This album by Dutch ensemble Fast De is best described as jazz, prog, pop rock. From such unpromising beginnings I was relieved to be able to say that I enjoyed this.
I know it’s a weakness to compare bands to other bands that I’ve never listened to, but assume I know what they sound like. So I won't do that here. Instead, I’ll say that if I had known that they were a jazz facing prog band, or a prog facing jazz band before I listened to them, I would have bracketed them with the likes of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart and run a proverbial country mile from them.
I would have been wrong to do so, and I would have missed out on something different.
It’s true that on a track such as ‘AH’ a full blooded, cinematic pop tune is interrupted by a full blown prog rock wig out before carrying on as if nothing had happened. It’s like having a cosy tete a tete in a restaurant disrupted by a waiter dropping a tray of cutlery next to you. Elsewhere, a recorder played by an excited seven year old quietly introduces ‘Good To Get Lost’. They’re madcap moments of chaos, the kind Charlie Chaplin, Monsieur Hulot or even Mr Bean might bring to the recording process.
They’re not weaknesses but they are examples of the unexpected, and once you’ve heard one you’re on your guard for the next. There are other strengths. They command their light and shade. The guitar sound to ‘AH’ is great - warm,echoey and cinematic. Underneath the musical free for alls this is an enjoyable slice of pop prog jazz and it creates a sound and mood that is all their own.
At times this strikes as a chaotic mess of pop melodies and jazz riffs, but it’s also surprisingly enjoyable.
Taster Track : AH
Poster Paints : Poster Paints
Shoegaze meets dream pop in an appealing set that allows you to wallow in their lush sounds and tones.
Poster Paints largely escape the woozy ennui that can bedevil much shoegaze music. In the wrong hands shoegaze can smother a song, denying it energy and the ability to move the listener. (That’s ‘move’ in the emotional sense, not the sense of shifting someone off the settee while you’re trying to vacuum around them.)
The effect of listening to Poster Paints is akin to being comfortably settled in a bean bag it’s hard to escape from. You’re held in the songs’ grasp and cannot summon the energy or inclination to move away.
There’s a distance in the songs as if you’re inhabiting someone else’s dream. There’s a prettiness too, about a song like ‘Still Got You’, or the guitar line of ‘Number 1’ that lifts them out of listless ennui and into the living world of pop. The shoegaze music adds weight and substance to simple songs such as ‘Still Got You’. The dream pop vocals add the sweetness that engages you with the song.
It doesn’t quite hold up across the album which tails off in the second half after ‘Falling Hard’. They try their best, but ideas such as the shoegaze folk hybrid of ‘Hard To Sweeten’ don’t quite work. The extended play out to closing track ‘My Song’ is an agreeable way to end, like waving goodbye to friends as they drive away after an enjoyable weekend.
And there you have it. Poster Paints are an enjoyable, relaxed and comfortable listen and I’ll settle for that.
Taster Track : Never Saw It Coming
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