Charlotte Adigery, Rammstein, Ron Sexsmith, Steve Pilgrim, Sweet Baboo, Young Fathers, The Zephyrs
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
Thank You by Charlotte Adigery
Never has so much passive aggression been poured into a single song to such devastating effect. It's just one of the stand out tracks on an album that takes socially aware club music in new directions.
The Vivian Line : Ron Sexsmith
Ron Sexsmith is a Canadian singer songwriter that the critics and his peers love. It’s time, just 32 years after his full debut, for everyone else to sit up and take notice. The Vivian Line is his best record for years.
There’s a song here, ‘Outdated and Antiquated, that sums up just one view of him. Old fashioned, unshowy, low key and dealing in miniatures are other words that could serve just as well, but the wordsmith in him would know that you can’t easily rhyme with ‘miniature’ and he’s not about to let standards slip by lapsing into a clumsy line.
His songs are unashamedly sentimental. He’s not afraid to sing directly about love and he does so in a sincere, innocent and hopeful way. He sings like a man who has spent his whole career just trying to keep afloat but has clung to the splinter of optimistic hope that has carried him through the toughest times. You’ll find more questions than answers in his songs, slightly bewildered in his quest for understanding the ‘whys’ of life. Your heart will go out to him.
He has an unusual and unexpected voice, not smooth but warm, vulnerable and often imbued with sweet melancholy. In the age of ‘X Factor’ it’s unlikely that he would be invited to Bootcamp but, to be honest, that’s a big plus. Like Elvis Costello or Nick Mulvey, he’s not gifted with a classical singing voice but like them he is also able to conjure something that can be heartwarming or heartbreaking out of a dull base metal as the mood takes him.
There’s an old fashioned sound to the music. The clarinet on ‘Powder Blue’, the solo bass and finger clicks of ‘Ever Wonder’ and the atmosphere of strumming his guitar in a quiet moment on the front porch tap into the lifeblood of quiet and assuming pop. See Sexsmith live and you’ll see a man, an acoustic guitar and a microphone, perhaps a small band behind him. He’ll offer intimacy over flashiness every time and it’s the same with these songs.
If there’s one moment that captures the enchantment that Sexsmith weaves over his audience it’s the quiet coda to ‘When Our Love Was New’. It sets out beautifully a sense of fading, bittersweet and ghostly memories. For 20 seconds you’re held in a spell of pure magic and it churns you up inside.
For years Sexsmith has battled the personal costs and disappointments that come from being overlooked and underrated. On this album he sounds as if he has finally come home, found his place in the world and is content.
This is an album to love unashamedly.
Taster Track : Outdated And Antiquated
Beautiful Blue : Steve Pilgrim
Classic songwriting, beautifully done.
Steve Pilgrim is the drummer with Paul Weller’s band. That ticks a lot of boxes regarding quality and performance and also opens up a wide vista of influences. Pilgrim is not immune to these, but he takes the softer side of Weller, the side that produces ‘English Rose’ or ‘You Do Something To Me’ and makes it personal to him. He’s the Allen A’ Dale to Weller’s Robin Hood.
Any Weller influences are just a starting point. Pilgrim is much more of a wandering minstrel, a troubadour singing timeless love songs. Nowadays songwriting like this is rare. There’s a helpless honesty at the core of these songs. All masks and roles are stripped away leaving an essence that can’t be changed. The abiding message is a vulnerability that beseeches the listener to accept him for who he is.
It’s in no way a religious album but you do sense that Pilgrim is the pilgrim searching for deeper meaning. ‘Where Our Love Goes’ has a hymn like intensity. It’s full of music that sounds as if it has slowed down the world to allow it to be understood and felt.
This is an album of restrained romantic songs. Raw emotion is held in check and it’s all the more powerful and affecting for that.
For a drummer, this is a quiet album. The drums are barely there on many tracks. Instead the driving force is the acoustic guitar, supplemented by chamber strings and piano. He may well have recruited a choir of heavenly angels to provide backing vocals throughout. They’re a gorgeous addition.
‘Don’t Let The Mirror Break’ is an intravenous link to the sound of 60s / 70s songwriters in the spirit of Burt Bacharach, complete with the sixties choir and smooth horns.
This is an honest, emotional, uplifting album that offers a masterclass in crafted song writing. It’s an endangered species. Enjoy it before it disappears.
Taster Track : Lifeboat
The Chasing Pack
Topical Dancer : Charlotte Adigery
There are new records released every week. Few, though, can claim to be genuinely new. Charlotte Adigery’s set of social commentary songs against infectious but pared back club rhythms is one that can.
I’d never heard of Charlotte Adigery, or her credited partner Bolis Pupol or even her record until it was announced as Radio 6’s album of 2022. I guess that’s how change happens. It creeps up on you and suddenly you realise it’s all around. This album feels and sounds like a left turn for club music.
It would undermine their mission to draw out influences because this doesn’t sound like anything that has come before. However, there are other acts that have popularised forms of music in a new way, helping them break through from the past. I’m thinking of Tom Tom Club, Grace Jones and Prince around the time of ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Kiss’.
Bands have used nagging rhythms, sparse melodies and moderate beats before, but not in such a Tower of Babel as she does with ‘Ich Mwen’ mixing up language and sound to such exciting effect. ‘Haha’, too, is basically the sound of laughter used as a rhythm but in a way that makes it easy to confuse with crying.
This is club music for the head, sung by an artist who calls out insincerity and patronising hypocrisy. For the most part it’s achieved in a teasing way and with humour. In this day and age wolf whistles have no place in popular culture unless they’re put there as adeptly as she manages in ‘It Hit Me’. There will be a number of reviewers though who twitch uncomfortably at the passive aggression of ‘Thank You’.
Adigery dissects attitudes to race, sexuality, body image and social rituals sometimes in just a few words. She holds a mirror up to us, and with wit, experience and perception performs musical keyhole surgery to lay bare how we are.
She makes her point through sound as well as words. ‘Ich Mwen’ is a mix of languages - French, German, probably Flemish, possibly some African too - that drills down to what unites and divides us all. ‘There’s a glee to the satisfying repetition of the title in ‘Reappropriate’, relishing how it rolls off the tongue and lingers in the ears. She has a child-like joy for how words sound and it bubbles through most of the songs. With ‘Making Sense Stop’ she has the confidence to twist and reimagine the Talking Heads album title ‘Stop Making Sense’ for the 21st century.
It’s an album that sounds clean and bright but not over produced and disposable. There’s so much here to latch onto and pick apart that it would need several plays to do it justice.
‘Topical Dancer’ is an interesting and intriguing record but most of all it’s hugely enjoyable.
Taster Track : Thank You
Zeit : Rammstein
Rammstein’s music is described as ‘Neue Deutsche Harte’. That’s a blend of alternative metal, groove metal, electro-industrial and techno. It’s surprisingly poppy but more than a little creepy.
There’s no hiding from the fact that Rammstein are challenging. Their chosen subjects are the kind to make some people, understandably, turn away. Their music conjures up scenes that might come from the stories of Sven Hassel, or if you dipped your toes into the bierkeller sleaze of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin novels. At various times you may feel yourself transported to a blazing furnace preparing military grade equipment or to a heaving bar where steins are slammed on tables prior to fights breaking out.
The effect comes from the vocals. All the songs are sung in German, and it’s a language that’s well suited to this metal music. The songs are sung with relish and are, at times, inescapably creepy. The lascivious lusting after a partner with ‘Dicke Titten’ - I’ll leave you to work that meaning out - feels uncomfortable, as does the focus on the pain of cosmetic surgery covered in ‘Zick Zack’ . ‘OK’ isn’t ok when you realise it’s an abbreviation of ‘Ohne Kondom’. I’ll help you with this one. ‘Ohne’ means ‘without’. The English translation of these lyrics doesn’t make it clear what’s going on but you don’t need to be a linguist to work out it’s not a tender love song. All told, this is an album that it is easier to enjoy without translation.
That’s not the full story though. Rammstein paint a world in strong and vibrant colours. There are times, as on ‘Zeit’ when the songs feel balletic and operatic. The buzz metal guitar is unavoidably powerful and thrilling. Surprisingly there are moments of tranquillity and melody, perhaps serving like the pauses between bouts of intense electro-shock treatment.
These are not songs that are hard to listen to musically. There’s a pop nugget located in the kernel of each song wrapped in a veil of strong choruses, terrific hooks, a little bierkeller drinking and lots of drama. It’s as if Soft Cell’s sex dwarf had rebelled against his background and made his way out into a harder, more brutal world.
This is a mixed album with a lot to like. Live, I believe, they’re outstanding. In the comfort of your living room they’re a little more uncomfortable.
Taster Track : Zeit
The Wreckage : Sweet Baboo
Music doesn’t come much more appealing than this collection of 60s influenced, lightly psychedelic songs.
For those of you with short memories, Sweet Baboo was the pet name Lucy gave her crush, Linus, in the Charlie Brown / Snoopy cartoons . Linus spent half his time trying to shake off the name and her attentions and half the time happily being himself. That’s close to the feeling of this album.
The songs may all be light and relaxed but there are a few tensions at the heart of this album. On the one hand the early songs are full of sunshine and hope; on the other there’s a deep vein of introspective reflection too in the later songs.
The music is confident, sprightly and full of imagination. The Brazilian rhythms of ‘Hopeless’ that underscore the thoughts of a boy from Wales are evidence of that as is the jaunty music hall feel of ‘The Worry’.
Initially the vocals are a bit of a surprise. They’re an acquired taste - quavering, tremulous and uncertain. Such is the sweetness of the songs that you’re willing him to succeed. They fare better in the second, more thoughtful half where the main accompaniment is a rich piano. You sense that this is the part that contains the real Sweet Baboo rather than the performer.
You will be happy to embrace these songs, whether it’s to applaud the one man song and dance ensemble of ‘Hopeless’ or in enjoyment of the music hall vibe to ‘The Worry’ or in response to the quietly sensitive pleasures of ‘The Waitress’. Even the gloomier ‘Herbie’ proceeds to a gorgeous fade.
These are gentle songs that want to please, and succeed in doing so. They’re optimistic and hopeful and if that feels a little like the Hippie ideal, well, maybe they herald a new Age of Aquarius, building harmony across the world.
This is an album so at odds with the world today that it takes some time to adjust to its innocent flavours. Persevere, and you will find it to be a delight.
Taster Track : Hopeless
Heavy Heavy : Young Fathers
There’s so much energy mixed with the rhythm of life in this album. It’s a shame that the sound is so muddy.
It’s not often that the pleasure you take from an album is tempered by how it has been produced but this time around it was enough to spoil my enjoyment. This could be a huge album in all senses of the word, but you’re left feeling that you’ve listened to it through a thick fire curtain. It deadens the variation across the album. Perhaps it’s a deliberate attempt to capture the noisy chaos of life but if so, you may feel that it’s a decision that hasn’t worked out.
It’s such a pity because dig beneath that and you have an album of astonishing vigour and drama. There’s an urgency here, heard in ‘I Saw’ and others, and a sense of anticipation delivered in a headlong, exhilarating rush. It has the feeling of herds of animals stampeding across the African savanna. Whether they’re fleeing from danger or charging towards a new future is hard to tell. It’s probably a mix of both.
Opening track ‘Rice’ sets out the album’s stall. There are three key components and they’re called rhythm, rhythm and rhythm. Whether you dance, move, twitch or tap your way through these songs the one thing you can’t do is sit still. It’s not party music though. There’s too much threat and menace at play for that, but you won’t come across an album that’s brimming with life in all its messy glory for some time.
Actually, there really are three components at work here, but they’re the Young Fathers themselves. Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and Graham 'G' Hastings are like the Three Musketeers, all for one and one for all. The interchange between the three adds to the exhilaration, handing lines back and forth like professional basketball players teasing a school team.
This is a lively cousin of rap from the heart of Africa. ‘Ululation’ has that African vibe upfront and at its core but the feeling is there across most of the songs.
A friend saw them live at Rough Trade’s shop in Bristol. He was very impressed. You should give this album a listen but live may be the best way to experience what makes them special.
Taster Track : I Saw
For Sapphire Needle : Th
There is much to admire in the music on this album but it’s never going to be the soundtrack to a good night out though.
Friends with Mogwai, helped out by Mojave 3 and profiles that describe them as a mix of shoegaze and folk rock. That’s a serious mix of influences and genres. It leads to a bold, mature and confident sound, an album that’s made to be listened to properly, not casually in passing.
It’s a heavy record too, in tone if not in musicianship. You’ll tell me that it’s no crime to wallow in depression. I’d agree with you, but neither is it the signal of a good time. This is music of consolation or defiance as you’ve reached a low point in your life. They’re explicit about this in ‘God Loves A Trier’. “Life is crap” they sing. They have miserabilist tendencies, but authentically so. It’s their own experiences that they sing about..
There are a few moments where the unrelenting downbeat tone makes listening tougher than it needs to be. A song such as ‘Snowline’ doesn’t seem to go anywhere. There’s no doubt that the album is thoughtful and well played but without nagging melodies and life, they’ll find it tough to lure listeners back for repeated listens.
Fortunately, there are more than enough good points to keep you engaged. The soft Scottish tones in the vocals help. Try ‘How Have You Been Today’ for one example. There’s a grandeur to some of the playing, for example on the instrumental ‘December’, that helps to command and retain attention. ‘Bolder’ touches a lighter, soaring note in the extended fade out. It lifts the track and, momentarily, the album. In these tracks, and in the eight minute closer ‘Aliens’ they show moments of proggy greatness. And their musicianship is compelling.
I’ll finish with a joke.
“Cheer up," they said. It could be worse. So I did, and it was.”
That may sum up The Zephyrs’ position, but it hasn’t stopped them making a strong album.
Taster Track : Bolder
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