Updated: Jun 7
Discovery, Dr Feelgood, Finlay Shakespeare, Liela Moss, Luke Sanger, Meemo Comma, Savanin Malahov Branchey, Susanna Hoffs
The Front Runners
Damn Right! : Dr Feelgood
Top class, aggressive rock and roll. And that, in a nutshell, is all you need to know.
What you really want to know is whether the current lineup can hold a candle to the legendary groupof Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B Sparks and The Big Figure. Damn right they can, and so can the songs.
The current line up has been pretty much in place for nearly 25 years. If they lack the growling menace of the Brilleaux / Johnson years well, doesn’t everybody? Any trepidation that they may have become a mere tribute band to themselves is laid to rest with the opening track ‘Don’t Pull your Punches’.
Part of the pleasure is to anticipate the time honoured signature elements. They’re everywhere. This album is full of bar room rhythm and blues, all squalling harmonica, choppy guitars and tight on the button beats. Take the cutaway to just drums and vocals, not once but twice, on ‘Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is’. It’s RnB soaked, pop perfection.
Dr Feelgood are nothing if not a live band. I suspect they write songs purely to freshen up the live act. The songs capture the on stage unity of a tight band, the muscular guitars and, above all, the sweat you’ll experience when they play live. ‘Keep It Under Cover’ has a bass heavy, almost heavy metal bass. ‘Mary Ann’ is lighter, wandering away from the RnB bad boy dives to the rock n roll teenage jive cafes. It’s almost an in-joke for any incarnation of Dr Feelgood to have a song that tells the benefits of a visit to the Doctor. Here it’s the song ‘I Need A Doctor’. It’s the band showcase, ‘Last Call’, where everyone has the chance to take centre stage, soloing their way to a finish.
Last call? I hope not.
Taster Track : Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
The Chasing Pack
LP : Discovery
This 2009 synth pop album from Rostram Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) and Wesley Miles crams a lot into its 33 minutes, perhaps too much. But it also contains the partly evolved seeds of pop greatness.
The only minimal part of this album is its title. Elsewhere it sounds like two art school kids testing synth pop to breaking point. There’s a manic freedom at play, like a remote control toy that has taken charge of the controls, speeding up and slowing down, jerking here and jerking there, doing its best to knock paint from the skirting boards. It doesn’t make for a restful listen as it experiments with what works and what does not.
This is a record that leaves no stone unturned and no switch unpulled as it tries out new rhythms, fractured beats, varying lines of melody and countless effects and glitches. And sometimes all that happens at once. It means that a song such as ‘Orange Shirt’ is overfull with ideas. In fact, even they couldn’t cram all their ideas into one song as they deliver two versions of it in the deluxe copy of the album.
By throwing everything into the mixer there’s a fair chance that you will find some ideas that stick. The chorus of ‘Osaka Loop Hire’ breaks through the noise to anchor the song. ‘Can you Discover’ sounded like a welcome development to the sounds of early 21st century electro RnB pop, with an arched and knowing eyebrow underscoring everything about it. ‘Carby’ is the song that sticks closest its synth pop path and is the better for it. You hear bright flashes of both Vampire Weekend and Hot Chip’s styling in ‘It’s Not My Fault (It’s My Fault)’.
It takes a while to recognise the cover of The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. As its familiar melodies make themselves heard though, the treatment highlights how messy but inspirational a song can be when you give full, unfettered rein to the artist. It's their willingness to try anything and everything that finally wins you over.
In any stage of evolution, wonderful new life forms emerge. Like this album it may take time for them to be fully appreciated and recognised but, with time, we’re better for them.
Taster Track : Carby
Illusion + Memory : Finlay Shakespeare
Finlay Shakespeare’s ‘Illusion + Memory’ harks back to the days of sombre synth pop that was perhaps artistically satisfying but commercially unsuccessful.
It’s a brooding start. The slow intense build of ‘Your Side of the River’ strikes an uneasy balance between electro folk and downbeat synth pop. The tone continues with ‘Always’, a track that sounds like Depeche Mode fronted by Howard Jones at his bleakest under the tutelage of Gary Numan.
It can scarcely be called uplifting and it’s unlikely to lighten your mood. The overall impression at this early stage is of a John Peel endorsed act that never breaks through.
You wouldn’t accuse him of having a musical voice but you can commend him for matching it to his material. But like the cover, which is predominantly grey with a swathe of colour beginning to break through, there’s more to Finlay Shakespeare than that.
Two tracks in the middle of the album mark a turning point. ‘Climb’ breaks free of its tethering bass long enough to display a swirling inventiveness. ‘Ici’ is also more varied with synths rolling with perpetual motion to carry you through the song. ‘Ready Ready’ has more successful pop notes, aiden by a more energetic, pacier approach.
There is flickering evidence here of a slow journey to something that could be both artistically credible and satisfying while striking a more uplifting and accessible sound. It’s a journey in progress, but watch this space.
Some reviewers feel he’s further along the road than I do as you will see if you read this review by The Electricity Club. Electricity Club Finlay Shakespeare Review
Taster Track : Ready Ready
Internal Working Model : Liela Moss
A confident and focused set of songs awaits on this album - accessible but not necessarily easy listening.
This is music for a virtual reality. It’s potentially the soundtrack to a video computer game, one that features resistance fighters preparing for a moment of reckoning or to start the fightback. Liela will be cast as the character with hidden personal reasons for taking part.
‘Empathy Files’ opens the album and it’s clear that we are in a different league as far as melody, build, atmosphere and control are concerned. Control is the key force here. Songs progress through one inevitable move after another, like a chess player closing out a long anticipated victory. It’s the control that makes this a confident victory but it also restricts the sound and tone of the record a little.
This is a weighty album. Lighter moments are scarce, limited to the piano that introduces ‘Ache In The Middle’ and the closing track ‘Love As Hard As You Can’. The former offers something different as if the album has switched to a different track, like trains temporarily diverted from the mainline. It’s the latter that comes as the biggest surprise, held back until last. It’s a spiralling number, comparatively upbeat and a step away from the tone of the rest of the album. It doesn’t feel like an add on though, more an emergent insight or realised denouement.
Three collaborators add to the mix. Gary Numan is a comfortable fit for the album on ‘Vanishing Shadows’. Jehnny Beth from Savages, share the same DNA in their vocals on ‘Ache In The Middle’. Adding to the surprises stored up for the end, ‘Love As Hard As You Can’ features Dhani Harrison. You can hear shades of his father in those spiralling runs through the songs.
There is a strong and consistent sense of purpose running through this album and that makes it an album to admire.
Taster Track : Empathy Files
Salt Water Motifs : Luke Sanger
This collection of abstract, ambient, almost music is strange, not in a bad way but strange nevertheless.
Someone told me recently that if you connect a microphone up to a mushroom, you can hear it. That’s slightly freaky but according to Google it’s true. Apparently a mushroom transmits electrical pulses that can be converted through synthesisers into a form of techno music. What a wonderful world we live in and it feels as if Luke Sanger’s album could be the soundtrack to it.
This is music without a tune, bending notes out of shape and incorporating muted conversations. It’s music as an out of body experience or for a darkened room during neurological testing where the purpose is to study the brain in a relaxed state.
At times it sounds as if it comes to you from the past. At its closest to recognisable music on ‘Home Foreseeable’ it sounds as if a lost 70s radio call signal has been rediscovered and brought into service.
The music plays with the sounds of water throughout. ‘Sediments’ is the music of babbling brooks or gentle waves. In ‘Dry Land’ those waves are synthetic or made out of gentle static. There are a few notes on top and a light patter of beats. In the right, undisturbed circumstances this could become highly addictive listening.
This is an album of strange but beguiling music. You may find you’re happy to go along with it, even as it leads nowhere in particular.
Taster Track : Dry Land
Loverboy : Meemo Comma
This is cold beat driven club music, that may be a little tongue in cheek but is generally not for the faint hearted.
Don’t judge a book by its cover or an album by its sleeve. Visually, Meemo Comma is presented as a kind of K-Pop street idol. The colouring suggests that you’ll find something bright and synthetic within. Sit tight. Any lingering misapprehensions are blown away by the shock of the ‘C’ word that appears without warning after 47 seconds.
I’m smiling as I type this, thinking that the last paragraph will make me seem completely out of touch, the equivalent of a 1950s city gent time travelled to the kind of club that doesn’t require you to be put up for membership by fellows of your class and background. That’s OK. It’s a cultural thing and it’s a culture that I’m not a part of.
This is music that feeds the head but not the heart. It’s an impressive selection of tracks that stretch and twist heavy beats into new sounds. It’s clever but leaves me cold. It sounds like it’s intended for an audience of DJs, a chance to share and show off your latest tricks and techniques.
For me the best electronic dance music builds anticipation and releases euphoria. This is as relentless, as insistent and as musical as a woodpecker hammering a tree.
It’s a dark album.The spoken word samples flavour ‘Loverboy’ with a kind of Sweeney gangland menace. It’s the feel of a Jake Arnott (seedy but gritty gangster novels) or Neil Cross novel. (Neil Cross is probably best known as the originator of ‘Luther’ on TV.) These samples are where there may be just a smidgeon of something tongue in cheek. ‘Ex-P1’ grabs the intention with a more cinematic sound and ‘Kyle’ offers some calmer moments amongst the beats.
There’s a more favourable review thatifinds a lot of fun in the album by Igloo Magazine at Igloo Meemo Comma Review.
Taster Track : Kyle
Deep End : Susanna Hoffs
Susanna Hoffs, founding member of The Bangles, has released a covers album. It’s very….. nice, and completely unnecessary and dispensable.
She’s covered songs extensively before in collaboration with Matthew Sweet. In three multi record albums they explored well known songs and offered an opportunity to do a little, easy crate digging to uncover some less well known songs. They made a virtue of never diverting too far from the original sound.
Hoffs does much the same here. I hope it doesn’t sound mean spirited to say that she has picked songs that cast her as an independent but unthreatening feminist, reversing the polarity of the Rolling Stones ‘Under My Thumb’ and wagging a finger at an insensitive partner in Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’.
Friends and newer artists receive a hand up too. There are a couple of tracks from Phantom Planet and its individual members. There are nods to cover by Holly Humberstone, Joy Oladokun and, er, some new hopeful called Ed Sheeran. I can’t believe he needs additional royalties from ‘Afterglow’. It must be here because it’s a song she likes, although the more surprising entry is Squeeze’s ‘Black Coffee In Bed’ - a great song but by no means a popular standard outside their fanbase.
I’m not sure where the challenge came in this record. It feels well meaning but safe, a corporate idea that aligned with what she felt she could enjoy doing. There are a couple of songs that benefit from different arrangements. There’s an upbeat jazzier feel to Colin Blunstone’s ‘Say You Don’t Mind’ and a brass insert to Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ that change the song while keeping the fans on board.
This is a safe, unthreatening and unnecessary record. It’s less diving into the deep end and more paddling in the shallows. But I guess there’s no real harm in that.
Taster Track : You Don’t Own Me
BONUS SONG REVIEW
Strange : Savanin Malahov Branchey
This slice of chilled disco is exactly what’s needed as you take the first sip of chilled wine or iced lager following a long, slow and hot car journey.
The press release tells me that Alex Savanin is an experienced song writer with success in a number of different musical fields. It goes on to tell me that Kirill Malahov is a producer and sound engineer who’s responsible for the excellent sound on this track. The press release does not lie when it tells me that Branchey delivers stylish and beautiful vocals.
My ears tell me that this is a seductively smooth and lovely tune. The disco guitar and bass lines are nicely done, but it’s the little surprises such as the break into strings and guitar mid way through and the closing piano chord that lift it above the crowd. This is a song crying out for an extended 12” mix to build on those elements.
This is for fans of Air and the newer sounds of Dubstar and Altered Images. It’s also for those who want Summer warmth through the headphones as well as in the garden or on the beach.
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