Andrew Wasylyk, Andy Burrows, Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth, Gerry Rafferty, Lump, Shabason Krgovich and Harris, Sister John,
This Week's Music
Memory and life events shaped this week's listening, from memories of childhood and place, to break up, illness and ultimately death. If that sounds a little downbeat, don't be afeared. There's a lot of pretty music here together with uplifting bravery and honesty.
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
I Am By Day : Sister John
This is an appealing one stop shop for early 21st century indie pop.
Sister John are a Glaswegian indie band - both those adjectives are relevant - and this is their third album. They’d passed me by until now, but this album has more than enough to hook me into their other work.
The Glaswegian influence is in the sound of the music. It’s not filled with broad accents or bagpipes or anything like that, but it sits comfortably with the less commercial sounds of Postcard Records, the Bluebells, Aztec Camera and of bands slightly further afield such as the Delgados. It’s also in the celebratory closing track ‘Glasgow Is A Rainbow’.
The indie tag flows from that background. Initially, it’s top quality lo fi indie popularised by bands who discovered the Velvet Underground in the early 80s. The album steps up abruptly with ‘What I Want’. This track differs from what has preceded it and highlights a more adventurous streak and a willingness to depart from established templates. It’s a sparse indie dance track, playing with sound and emphasis. It’s based around an echoing bluesy guitar riff and is clever, creative and different. From this point the album travels slowly down a more reflective and sombre path, but appealingly so.
It’s when the guitar is given full rein and allowed to take centre stage that the record comes truly alive. It may be their third album but, whilst the strong indie appeal is there throughout, it’s a long way from the garage pop of ‘I’ll Be Your Life’ to the bluesier ‘The Sound Of You.’
Every track on this album has something new and good to offer. It’s a smorgasbord of indie styles, and you should be able to find something here to your taste.
Taster Track : What I Want
And The Rest
Balgay Hill : Morning In Magnolia : Andrew Wasylyk
Andrew Wasylyk’s approach to composing creates music is hard to categorise, but it is a refreshing and restorative experience.
When I used to commute, very occasionally I’d listen to a record that allowed me to drift into a half sleep, half waking trance. I was completely absorbed by the sounds coming through the headphones, and oblivious to the announcements and distractions of other passengers. I’d emerge from this state cured of my early morning stresses and given the equivalent of another hour in bed. It was always a blissful start to the day. Andrew Wasylyk is one artist who can trigger this.
These instrumentals cascade over and around you. They’re music for an early morning, sun dappled walk, slow moving like a blossom opening its petals to the warmth of the sun.
Andrew Wasylyk is an artist who helps you to lose track of time and become completely immersed in music. Describing it has you grasping for words that fail to do it justice. It’s ambient, new age, jazz electronica and none of these things. Just as you think you’ve pinned down one track, the next wanders off in a different direction.
The throbbing, bird song infiltrated piano and more of ‘Blossomlessness #2’ is the musical equivalent of a session in a flotation tank, and as relaxing. Not long afterwards ‘Magpie Spring’ introduces a synthetic beat that carries along a gentle but spritely, even perky melody. And it comes as a shock to reach the title track and hear vocals, electronically distorted vocals where their rhythm is more obvious than the lyrics but vocals nonetheless. It’s an album that works as a whole, achieving its effect cumulatively.
This is a calming and soothing record that should be made available on prescription.
Taster Track : Magpie Spring
The Colour Of My Dreams : Andy Burrows
Andy Burrows’ first solo album from 2008 is an album of deeply nostalgic curios that provided a hint of the stronger things to come.
The first thing about this ‘album’ is that it is very short. Burrows rattles through 11 songs in 13 minutes. That begs the question ‘Why?’ And, as it happens, there is a good answer to that. Andy Burrows was the drummer with Razorlight. Those of you with short memories may have forgotten that they were the short term saviours of rock and roll in the early years of the Millennium. He had an up and coming profile, and he used it to release this album to raise funds for a Winchester hospice. The songs are based on poems written by a close family friend. This album also heralds a marked change in style, acoustic ditties replacing sleazy rock.
The personal nature of the poems comes through. They’re nostalgic whispers from the past, imbued with fondness and, also, a little childlike unhappiness. In ‘Teacher Goodbye’ he joins in the farewells to his teacher who is leaving on maternity leave, while fretting that she won’t return the football cards that she confiscated. It has the cosy feel of Pam Ayres or Jake Thackeray but in miniature and with a modern pop treatment.
Inevitably, the songs feel barely formed. They’re often just a single verse and a quick chorus with natural and innocent melodies. But they do show, in embryonic form, Burrows’ strengths that later developed into something rather special.
It’s a slight but sweet collection. It’s only 13 minutes long so where’s the harm in giving it a listen.
Taster Track : Teacher Goodbye
Utopian Ashes : Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth
Describing this as a collection of country rock songs by two rock musicians doesn’t do justice to the intensity of the experience.
Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream) and Jehnny Beth (Savages) have created a labour of love that’s a total fiction but one invested with heartfelt emotion. Actually, that’s not strictly true. It’s less a labour of love and more a labour of sadness and hate.
The idea behind the album is to chronicle the bitter divorce of a fictional couple played by Gillespie and Beth. They convince as a couple partly because these are genuine duets, not just a collaboration.
The sound is a long way from the typical sound of either of their parent bands, although it has something in common with Primal Scream ballads such as ‘Sometimes I Feel So Lonely’. It’s flavoured with acoustic guitars and sweeping strings that carry along surging melodies.
I found it strangely difficult to describe the effect. It sounds great but should be outstanding. Perhaps it’s too intense to be comfortable, too downbeat in its content to provide a thrilling rush of emotion. I considered likening it to Scott Walker on depressives, or to their channelling of an inner Leonard Cohen. In the end I’ve settled for Lee Hazlewood, a lesser known act who also made his name through duets, in his case with Nancy Sinatra. The best comparison though may be with ‘Wanderin’ Star’, the Lee Marvin song from Paint Your Wagon. It’s the same, beaten down and defeated world view that nevertheless has a great tune.
It’s an album that is accessible but won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s also a brave and clever attempt to give voice to something new.
Taster Track : You Can Trust Me Now.
Rest In Blue : Gerry Rafferty
Gerry Rafferty, of ‘Baker Street’ and ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ fame, died in 2011. This collection of songs he’d been working on in his later years has been pulled together by his daughter and serves as a fitting testimonial to his career.
His daughter’s involvement makes an album of personal songs even more personal. From the off, with ‘Still In Denial’, he confronts the alcoholism that eventually cut short his life. It’s a brave beginning, but this is more than a rage against darkness, ill health and misfortune. The album covers the traditional Irish and Scottish folk songs of his youth too, and there’s a rockier reworking of ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ to add interest.
Knowing the backstory, makes this album a little sad and wistful. It’s sad because of the suffering he and his family endured; wistful because Rafferty’s is a musical career cut short. We can’t know what story he would tell about his life, but the version contained here is one we can believe.
These are the touching and moist eyed songs of a man who chose long ago to give up trying to be a pop star. Rather they are the songs of a musician cherishing his talent during his darkest times with some success. And he’s proud of it too.
Musically, it’s an MOR mix of soft rock, folk, blues and pop. It’s a little unfashionable but it's well done. Its appeal will be to fellow musicians, his peers and the audience that has kept in touch while growing up with him. His voice is undimmed and affecting, particularly on the folk song ‘Old Mountain Thyme’. Strangely there are flickers of Eric Clapton around the time of ‘Lay Down Sally’. They’re in the vocals, the song style and the type of audience.
It’s an honest, brave and commemorative collection and we can say, probably, it’s what he would have wanted too.
Taster Track : You Are all I Want
Animal : Lump
This collaboration between Laura Marling (indie folk singer and 4 time Mercury Music Prize nominee) and Mike Lindsay (electronic folk group Tunng, and others) approaches difficult listening status but leaves a lasting positive impression of good, thoughtful music.
In his day job, Mike is a man who takes risks. Tunng’s last album was a brave masterpiece that looked at death and its rituals around the world. I’ve seen Tunng live, and etched on the memory is the sight of Mike and a band colleague switching instruments midway through a song by throwing them to each other across the stage. Laura Marling sounds as if she fits right in.
Looking at Laura and Mike, you can imagine them as Snow White and the woodcutter who takes her to an intended death before relenting at the last. The music they make together is in keeping with this. It has the quality of a nightmarish folk tale, a Beauty and the Beast, the nightmarish transformations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the rustic wildness of the Greek God Pan.
Strange goings on lurk in the background of this record. One example is ‘Red Snakes’. Its background noises had me thinking we had rats in the loft. Often the lyrics and vocals sound like incantations more than singing. From sparse, even unpromising, beginnings though, songs evolve and grow into things of melodic beauty. It’s like splitting open a rotting shell to find a bright and gleaming conker within.
Musically this is folk that is rooted in the real 21st century world to an electro backing. The electro rhythms are important to the songs as ‘Gamma Ray’ shows.
This isn’t something that you hear or would listen to every day but is it, nevertheless, a success? Yes it is, if you give it time.
Philadelphia : Shabashon, Krgovich and Harris
This collaboration between jazz musicians and pop auteurs is downbeat and lethargic. In glimpses it feels, tantalisingly, like a missed opportunity to create something of enduring beauty.
According to their Bandcamp page, Shabashon, Krgovich &Harris bonded over a shared love of New Age music. That explains quite a lot about the sound of this record, but not its tone.
The sound is that of a floating, some might say directionless, synth. There’s a definite ambient jazz influence at play here too.
The difficulty I have with this album is that, whilst it is lovingly created and performed, its gloomy tone is overwhelming and oppressive. It’s a record produced against a background of COVID lockdown and in that sense it’s a product of its times. It’s musical enervation, the sound of sapped strength and fatigue, the sound of trying to function with depression. You might think that ‘Friday Afternoon’ would be buoyant and in tune with the anticipation of the weekend to come. Instead it sounds more like the foreboding that accompanies the run up to Monday morning.
There are several good points to what is on offer. The attention to detail is impressive. It’s certainly a labour of love for all concerned with making it. Krgovich’s voice, which I’d only ever heard in his solo work, is excellent. It’s smooth, vulnerable and nicely languid, a thing to wallow in. They’re in good company too, because they reminded me of Talk Talk at their least commercial, or a more downbeat Blue Nile. That’s a pretty good place to be.
Tantalisingly, they are just an inch or two from creating something truly special. ‘Philadelphia, has the most overt melody and it’s a spine tingling glimpse of what might have been possible. ‘I Don’t See The Moon’ lets the musicians break free from the prevailing tone - quietly and delicately, but sufficiently to let the song escape the downbeat foundations of the rest of the album.
This is an album that has had loving care and attention invested in it, almost to excess. I feel I should give it a second chance but to do that I need to steel myself for the possibility that it will still be a journey that drags down my mood.
Taster Track : Philadelphia