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Hard Times, Strange Times, Good Times


Starring


L'Exotighost, M Ross Perkins, Naima Bock, Porcupine Tree, Smoove and Turrell, Suede


If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....


She Still Leads Me On - Suede



It's always reassuring when bands from the past return with something that is as powerful and as true to their defining spirit as before. Suede's 'Autofiction' is definitely that, an album fuelled by rage in the lyrics, vocals and music.


'She Still Leads Me On' is Brett Anderson's song to his late mother. It's an anguished, honest reflection of how he feels and classic Suede


Highly Recommended


E Pluribus M Ross : M Ross Perkins


This is a light and enjoyable collection of songs that borrows from early psychedelia of the 1960s but repays any debts in full.


M Ross Perkins is an American rock musician who has played and sung everything on this album himself. It takes some confidence to publicise that as it could be the first step towards falling flat on your face. The title, as my dimly recollected Latin tells me, means ‘out of many, M Ross”. Again some confidence needed to single yourself out like that. On the cover M Ross looks like one of those old time rockers who made a living playing American air bases in the early 70s.


It just goes to show that first impressions can be false, and that confidence is different from arrogance if it’s not misplaced. This is a delightful album of golden pop, drawing on the light psychedelia of albums such as The Beatles ‘Rubber Soul’ or The Who’s ‘The Who Sell Out’. Add to that a sprinkling of bubble gum pop, best heard in the bass line of ‘Wrong Wrong Wrong’ and you have a treat on your hands. It’s a bright and shiny conker falling from a cracked shell.


The delights are evenly spread from the nicely musical if lyrically squeezed opening track ‘Industrial Good Day Mantra’ to the gently swaying and swinging of ‘This One’ and onto the undemanding but enjoyable entertainment of ‘It’s Your Boy’. Even the potential misstep of the throwaway and wacky ‘The Clock Reads 60 Seconds From Now’ has the charm of a child presenting his first composition.


Above all this album has a happy sound. It’s sweet and naive in the best sense - the innocent, natural and unaffected sense. It’s easy to drift away on the songs, carried gently by the top line piano, the twanging guitar and the shuffling beats.


M Ross has done an excellent job and provided anyone who needs it with a musical tonic.


Taster Track : Wrong Wrong Wrong


....And The Rest


Kamongo : L’Exotighost


This is different, exotic even, as you’d deduce from their name. It’s a collection of ten instrumentals from a world somewhat removed from ours.


‘Kamongo’ is Swahili for something that is half woman and half fish. I guess we’d call that a mermaid. It’s an appropriate image for this music which is a mashup of rock and roll guitar (an adrenaline fuelled Shadows) a collection of familiar but underused backing instruments including the theremin and the glockenspiel. Swamp guitars and the glockenspiel crash on ‘Exotique Mecanique’ like out of control dodgems.


The music conjures up a lost, musty smell attached to it like an out of the way, overstocked book shop. There’s a sense throughout that they’re raiding 50s songs and B Movie soundtracks to create a mutant hybrid. This is Hammer Horror meets the Keystone Cops, and it comes together most successfully in ’Twilight On A Bald Mountain’.


Musically it’s good to hear instruments like the theremin and glockenspiel take centre stage. The album is fun to listen to in a niche novelty kind of way.


It’s hard to escape the sense that they are having fun with us and at our expense, but they’ve provided a fitting soundtrack for the run up to Halloween.


Taster Track : Twilight On A Bald Mountain


Giant Palm - Naima Bock


This collection of folk influenced, arty songs is hard work at first, but persevere and there’s an off kilter beauty to discover.


Before COVID, I used to rise ridiculously early to set off for work. There were days when it was almost too much effort to move, too much effort to click my brain into gear. But I found that pushing through that resistance could lead to a state of calm that was both restorative and refreshing. Initially I was reminded of those days by this record.


The track ‘“Every Morning’ sums up the feeling. It sounds like it’s struggling to wake up. The pace of the song veers towards exhaustion, with occasional bursts of necessary energy. ‘Toll’ travels a similar path but with added moments of loveliness in the flute that skits across the surface. The feeling is of those moments of first waking when you’re calm but not ready to move, before it breaks into a fractured carnival spirit that tries to kick you into life. On opening track ‘Giant Palm’ her voice is almost smothered by the tone, fighting not to be heard but to have any impact.


At this stage I wished that she could draw on her early life in Brazil and rustle up a Brazilian blend coffee that would be both strong and mellow at the same time.


If ever there was a record that rewarded attentive listening to reveal its strengths, this is it. Penetrate its upfront, overarching tone of exhaustion and you find something that’s the result of careful thought and rewarding with it. Her musical palate broadens out to include flutes and saxophones, the gentle rhythms are more varied and the supporting voices add a lighter tone to the mix.


The record follows a path that leads to something gentler and calm. The accurately named ‘Instrumental’, whilst not typical of the songs, serves as an excellent introduction to the album. It serves as a reminder that no matter what you hear upfront, it’s supported by something special. The album closes with ‘O Morro’ the one track that makes overt use of her early musical roots.


This record may be a slow burn late bloomer, but it ends with the exotic rays of dawn sunshine piercing the darkness.


Taster Track : Instrumental


CLOSURE / CONTINUATION : Porcupine Tree


Steven Wilson, who’s a man of many musical talents and disguises, has reincarnated his prog rock outfit. In for a penny, in for a pound - this is a no holds barred distillation of everything that is prog.


In some circles, prog rock is still a maligned musical genre. My generation must bear responsibility for that. Fifteen years old at the birth of punk, the two and a half minute blast of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols legitimised any fantasies of a becoming a rock star. The likes of Genesis, Yes, ELP and others - well, what little I’d heard of them suggested that I was going to have to learn how to play an instrument properly and elementary piano practice proved that was hard work. I did listen to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ but my abiding memory was of ticking clocks, cash registers and that iconic cover. Nothing else.


It became a lifestyle choice too. Were you someone who was prepared to invest in a top of the range stereo system to enjoy every nuance of your music, or were you someone who would settle for music through a cheap transistor radio so that you had change for a night out too?


The battle lines between prog and pop were drawn, as they were years before between jazz and rock and roll. If you preferred ELO to ELP then you were lesser music fans.. You were trivial and lightweight and your preferred bands had not earned a place at the top of the music tree.


Times and perspectives change. I’m grown up now and I can say from the heart that Porcupine Tree show how impressive prog can be. It’s Darth Vader making an entrance rather than R2-D2 bumbling around. ‘CLOSURE / CONTINUATION’ is the purest distillation of prog in its pomp that I’ve heard in the 21st century. It’s the very opposite of a three minute single and it majors in technical skill, virtuosity, song length and, in this case, intense hard rock.


The subject matter is close to Hell on earth. It’s the work of a great, nightmarish imagination. If it were a landscape, it would be the smoke belching steel mills of Port Talbot, rather than the Lakes or the Cornish coast. The lyrics are what transport you into this severe and harsh world but the music also lends itself to instrumentals, as the track ‘Population Three’ demonstrates.


It’s an album that overwhelms you with its power and complexity. Within its traditional merits of pomp and bluster, there are moments of calm and beautiful simplicity. Five minutes and twenty seconds into ‘Dignity’ there’s a guitar solo that causes you to hold your breath lest you break its spell. ‘Love In The Past Tense’ has passages that are genuinely stirring.


And, when all is said and done, that may be the key to whether or not you like this album. It’s an album where the tracks have separate passages and movements. It’s music that considers itself important and everything about it lives up to that status. Tamla Motown, on the other hand, is a single shot of joyous fun.


There’s room for both, not just in music generally but for individual listeners too.


Taster Track : Dignity


Antique Soul : Smoove & Turrell


This 2009 debut from Smoove & Turrell, is full of joyous, sample heavy funk and thoughtful soul. It may be just what we need right now.


It’s tempting to think of several tracks on this album as selling us the Northern Soul dream. In its way it’s a romantic one, straight from the Billy Elliott / Full Monty storybook. Northern working class search for or endure work, living for the weekend when they can unleash their true selves in the clubs, building their dreams and discarding their worries and cares for a few hours of pure pleasure or an escape to a better life. It’s a romantic one, but it’s a temporary fix for deep rooted problems that have causes and solutions outside your control.


When this album came out we were in the midst of the financial crisis that ushered in austerity, mainly for those who were already living austere lives. Fast forward 13 years and, well, the parallels are obvious.


‘Antique Soul’ certainly makes a fair stab at brightening and warming the atmosphere, even if it’s only through a brazier with limited range to pierce the cold and darkness on a run down building site.


This is good time, Northern soul / funk. It sets out its stall upfront. ‘Hammond’, ‘I Can’t Give You Up’ and ‘You Don’t Know’ provide irresistible music for dancing, bubbling up to a dance floor happy place. It’s music to lift you momentarily out of depression.


The more soulful songs, such as ‘The Difference’ and ‘Hypnotised’ are slower burners. Whereas you can flick a switch and the funk comes to life, the soulful numbers are more reliant on a dimmer switch requiring adjustments to lock into their mood.


Smoove and Turrell are a partnership that click, with Smoove’s DJ and sample knowhow complementing Turrell’s slightly gritty vocals well.


There are a couple of tracks worthy of individual mention. ‘Without You’ stands alone as the album closer, building over six minutes to something epic. ‘Don’t Go’ is an excellent cover of the Yazoo song - all crashing cymbals and stabbing brass.


This is a good listenable burst of sunshine music for an era of anxiety, doubt and fear. It won’t solve those problems but it might help you forget them for a short while.


Taster Track : Beggarman


Autofiction : Suede


Suede’s latest album is full of raging emotional drama backed by towering riffs and searing choruses.


Brett Anderson described this as Suede’s punk album, nasty, brutal and short. Two out of three isn’t bad. I wouldn’t call it particularly short, coming in at 45 minutes. The Ramones could fit 3 or 4 songs into the running time of ‘What Am I Without You?’. It harks back to punk though in holding nothing back and, above all, in its anguished rage.


This is a screamingly loud and ultimately thrilling album. Their manifesto anthem for this album is ‘Turn Off Your Brain And Yell’. They’re clear that this is the way they feel the sunshine, and they certainly need a dose of that.


These are songs that let out Hulk sized pain and rage. There’s nothing suppressed or repressed here. The songs aren’t coated in the kind of glam rock sheen that made past songs like ‘New Generation’, ‘Trash’ and ‘Beautiful Ones’ so accessible. In ‘Black Ice’ they tell us that “All love is pain”. They’re not talking about tearful heartbreak, but fully incapacitating, physical hurt here and the music matches that.


If this is a punk album, it’s a punk love album. It’s a lacerating and scab picking dissection of past relationships, whether that’s the torment of first love ( ‘15 Again’), the recognition of “so many ways to do what I do wrong” in ‘The Only Way I Can Love You’ or Anderson’s examination of feelings for his late mother (‘She Still Leads Me On’). A word of advice though - don’t ever request these songs for a Valentines or Mothers Day request. It’s unlikely to end well!


Inevitably this feels like Brett Anderson’s own experiences, perhaps lightly fictionalised if the album title provides any clues. Listening to this is an intense experience with little let up.


The squalling guitars are given a respite only on ‘Drive Myself Home’ and in parts of ‘What Am I Without You?’ Every song sounds like its own climax to the album.The effect is uncomfortably thrilling.


Suede are on tour next year, and these songs will be stunning highlights of their set.


Taster Track : Turn Off Your Brain And Yell


Playlists


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



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