Azure Ray, Blue Orchids, Daniel Wylie and the Cosmic Rough Riders, Del Amitri, Drug Store Romeos, The Farmer's Boys, Fryars, Girl In Red, Greentea Peng, Green Was Greener, Hemi Hemingway, Ian McNabb, Joan Armatrading, Katherine Priddy, Koreless, The Luvmenauts, The Luxembourg Signal, Maridalen, Paul McCartney (and Friends), Rezo, Tot Taylor, Tourist
This Week's Music
If you remember the Summer Special comics that enlivened many a quiet school holiday, you can regard this as the Pop In The Real World Summer Special. Below, you'll find 22 - count them - bite size reviews for your enjoyment and delectation.
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
Atoms And Energy : Daniel Wylie's Cosmic Rough Riders
If there’s a line that sums up this record, it’s taken from the song ‘Memory’. “A memory came, and I broke down again.” These are sad songs but awash with wonderful pop melodies, slightly awkward but distinctive lyrics and covered in a 60s influenced psychedelic wash from the Summer of Love. Think the Beach Boys at their creative peak, Neil Young at his acoustic best or The Zombies.
Taster Track : The Bruises and the Blood
If I Could Make It Go Quiet : Girl In Red
A refreshing blast of authentic sincerity. She’s raging and on the edge of losing control with songs about fucking, not fucking and lives going wrong in general. Far from bleak, these are great indie rock songs with massive tunes.
Taster Track : Horneylovesickness
Consequences : Joan Armatrading
Joan Armatrading is 70 and showing no signs of twentieth album syndrome with ‘Consequences’. She looks out of the cover, with confidence and calm. She’s delivered a personal record that’s positive, contented and grateful. It’s sincere, even homely; pop rather than soulful, catchy rather than intense. It’s a celebration, and a warm breeze of a record.
Tasted Track : Like
The Long Now : The Luxembourg Signal
Every song’s a winner on this album. It’s warm and it’s comforting. It’s pretty and extremely melodic. This ranks with the very best of 90’s / 00’s gentle indie.
Taster Track : I Never Want To Leave
Maridalen : Maridalen
This jazz trio, based around sax, trumpet, and double bass makes gorgeous music that has something of long Scandinavian nights about it. It’s at the calmer, gentler end of jazz, but is not devoid of rhythm. It brings a mournful atmosphere that suggests solitariness, but it’s by no means a depressing record. It’s lifted by some of the most addictive melodies I’ve heard in a while. They’re not pushed on you but once you latch on to them you cannot shake them off. ‘Maridalen’ has a bass riff that nags its way inside your head. ‘Inga’ sways gracefully. ‘Pa Gjensen’ provokes subdued foot tapping and ‘Vals Fra Bjelsen’ calms as it builds anticipation. Forget this is jazz, it’s simply great music to lose yourself in.
Taster Track : Maridalen
Travelog : Rezo
It’s hard to find anything out about this band who appear to have arrived fully formed with a collection of fine songs. It’s a blended approach, as we say these days, that combines a quiet indie rock with splashes of electronic, psychedelic colour wrapped in a melodic prettiness throughout. The songs are steady, formal and controlled like a poem in thrall to a fixed and unvarying metre. They’re carefully assembled like flat pack furniture. Build the basic structure and slot the decorative flourishes into place as you proceed. Occasionally they seem so lost in their music that they forget to engage their listeners - but it’s a highly enjoyable experience to eavesdrop on their work.
Taster Track : Lost At Sea
Frisbee : Tot Taylor
There’s something a little strange about this record, something hidden that may be a little sleazy and sinister. At first hearing this is the kind of music played now by former big names of 70s pop that have slid off the mainstream’s radar. It’s full of good songwriting and lilting melodies that sound slightly old fashioned. These songs could slot neatly into the Yacht Rock genre, smooth and listenable but sounding a little divorced from the concerns of real life. Here there are quality songs, unhurriedly requesting attention. It’s a little bit Wings, a little bit Supertramp at their most reflective and a big bit of 70s FM Radio. But there’s something underneath that tells a different story. Maybe it’s the unusually long songs for this genre. Perhaps it’s the insistence in the occasionally arch vocals, the repetition and slightly off kilter asides. Whatever it is it becomes an addictive listen that’s cleverly done
Taster Track : Yoko, Oh
Wild : Tourist
This is a collection of electronic dance music from 2019. It’s gentler than floor fillers, and melodic too. We’re not in Chemical Brothers territory but it’s perfect for dancing into the comedown room, for floating down from a dopamine high. It pulses across tracks with varying intensity. Some tracks sound fragmentary but are no less enjoyable. It's a lovely record, perhaps better named ‘Post Wild’ than ‘Wild’.
Taster Track : Eliixir
.... And All The Rest
Remedy : Azure Ray
As opening tracks go, ‘Swallowing Swords’ is a perfect introduction to the music of Azure Ray. It’s hushed, slightly brooding and building slowly to a climax that doesn’t arrive. It’s also subdued, repressed even, one paced, flat and melodically downbeat. You want more? Try ‘careful’, ‘guarded’ and ‘apart’. For most of this album I was a little frustrated. Their songs are great, and they go together beautifully. It sounds pretty but they’re just lacking one special ingredient to make something magical. As it is, the music works its power cumulatively so that by the final track you think they may have something here but it’s gone before you can grasp it. This album is by no means as disappointing as I’m making it sound, but neither is it nearly as good as it could be.
Taster Track : 29 Palms
Speed The Day : Blue Orchids
Not many bands from the post punk era are still going strong with new material but Blue Orchids are one of them, despite more changes of personnel than a friendly football international and despite long periods of hibernation. They’re back and it’s good. It’s post punk but more melodic than I expected and less angular. There’s a distinctive post punk guitar sound that’s discordant or oddly tuned and it runs through this album. The familiar fractured rhythms, and changing, irregular time signatures are there too, though a little softer and not overused - more hairline fractures than full blown breaks. This is proper music, shorn of the need to sound mainstream while still remaining listenable. This is what they do. Take it or leave it.
Taster Track : What Lies Beneath
Fatal Mistakes : Del Amitri
Back in the day, they trod the line between relentless worthiness and crowd pleasing anthems. They still do. If slightly grubby weariness shot through with flashes of defeated, spare and harshly poetic lyrics are your thing, this is for you. It’s as if they’ve never been away but it’s still good to have them back.
Taster Track : You Can't Go Back
The World Within Our Bedroom : Drug Store Romeos
This is the sound of bedroom music in the sense that it’s low key and small scale, uncomplicated and suppressed.. The words are softly sung and the music is kept in check. There’s a warmth and togetherness to the music though that comes from the sense of friends confiding their thoughts to each other. It’s a fairly minimal retro synth album with the woozy appeal of seeming to come out of a dream. ‘Walking, Talking Marathon’ reminded me of the sound of a toddler chattering away in their cot, happy with their own company in their own little world. These songs sound as if they come to you direct - they’re unfussy, genuine, introspective and the real deal.
Taster Track : Walking Talking Marathon
Get Out And Walk : The Farmers Boys
This album from 1983 is so completely of its time it’s an immediate nostalgia hit. And what a time it was for indie pop. This is bright, shiny, jangle pop funk, catchy as hell and supergluing a smile to your face. The Farmer’s Boys were part of the nearly men and women who didn’t quite break through as they deserved. For similar better known acts think early Housemartins, polished Orange Juice and Haircut 100. This is a collection with immediate charm that grows and grows. The deluxe version also shows their brilliance with the 12” single format.
Taster Track : More Than A Dream
God Melodies : Fryars
This is a little different, quirky in an Avalanches kind of way. It takes a confidence bordering on over confidence to call your album ‘God Melodies’. There’s a celestial, other world vibe from the vocoder but it sounds a little thin, as if the bass was to be avoided as the work of the devil. There’s a vision in this album but occasionally it sounds forced. There are, nevertheless, lots of good, meandering pop moments tethered to solid choruses.
Taster Track : Moscow
Man Made : Green Tea Peng
This was a bit of a departure for me. Rhythmic, chilled nu-Soul with heavy dub and vibrant jazz flourishes isn’t my usual listening fare, but this definitely has its moments. There’s a South American sound to the music. It brings a feeling of fierce sensuality and independence that cuts through the languid delivery. She claims Lily Allen as an influence and I can hear that in the sassy and challenging attitude she portrays, but it’s not a musical influence. It doesn’t quite maintain my interest across the whole album, but tracks such as ‘This Sound’, ‘Free My People’, ‘Satta’ and ‘Make Noise’ stand out.
Taster Track : This Sound
Introspective : Green Was Greener
This is another selection from Inner Ear Records. Opening track ‘Introspective’ mixes chilled electronica with more than a touch of shoegaze. It’s an ambitious and promising start that evolves into something reminiscent of The Doves at the start of their career. The production is disappointingly fuzzy. A cleaner sound might have helped them to stand out in a crowded indie rock field. ‘Desert King’ has a more individual sound, with an excellent driving bassline, and there’s an expansive cinematic quality to tracks such ‘Stargazing’ that bodes well for the future.
Taster Track : Desert King
The Lonely Hunter : Hemi Hemingway
This six track EP is a swaggering burst of 60’s pop noir. It’s the sound of the bad boy from ‘Leader of the Pack’ doing his own thing. It’s muscle bound music with tattoos on, the live entertainment in a bar it’s not safe to hang out in. Hemingway’s offering a dark reimagining of the period. These are strongly stylised songs resting at heart on corrupted sweet elements. The pop borrowings are obvious, but they’re harsher, grimey, fuzzy and grubby. Set his version of ‘Move Over Darlin’ next to Tracey Ullman’s. This is no collection of bubblegum songs. Hemingway has made something that is distinctively individual.
Taster Track : Burnin' Blue
Utopian : Ian McNabb
Ian McNabb’s solo work has been consistently strong, even though most people will only know him, if at all, as the lead behind the Icicle Works. They had a Top 20 hit with ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ in the 80s. He switches between out and out rockers filled with passion and conscience, and more reflective songs that celebrate what we have to treasure in an unsentimental way. This collection is weighted towards the latter. If I’m honest, that's my preference. That said, the ZZ Top old time rock and roll stylings of ‘Jonesin’’ and particularly ‘Jivin’ Miss Daisy’ are classics of their time. But there’s an appealing lightness to the quieter tracks. He writes a strong melody and sticks with it, embellishing it with little flourishes as it goes. If you want to wallow in good old fashioned melodic songwriting, try ‘Mesmerised’.
Taster Track : Boy
The Eternal Rocks Beneath : Katherine Priddy
Sometimes attributing genre to a record can be a case of misdirection. Yes, this is a folk album complete with country fiddle and accordion, but it also has the softening presence of cello and beautifully played acoustic guitar. It may be better to hear it as a collection of love songs, and respond to it without prejudice. The earlier tracks are simply strong songs. ‘Icarus’ is an excellent example of taking an idea and realising it fully. As the album progresses it’s darker, more obviously the folk of dark forests, abandonment by woodcutters and unnecessarily fey, haunting and ethereal sounds. Katherine’s vocals stay the right side of folk singing and her guitar playing is beautifully done. She gains an extra mark in my book for the gorgeous ending of birdsong and whispered goodbyes in ‘The Summer Has Flown’.
Taster Track : Icarus
Agor : Koreless
This album blends ambient, electronica, trance, nu classical, jazz and occasional bleeps - often within the same track! It’s a challenging listen in places, but an exciting one too. Despite all the technical wizardry on display it creates a sense of nature stirring and emerging. It’s intriguingly different and would be an ideal accompaniment to experimental contemporary dance.
Taster Track : Black Rainbow
Macartney III : Imagined
The cynic would claim this to be an attempt to achieve more mileage from McCartney’s recent songs, and provide a helpful boost to emergent careers, or careers that have slipped out of the limelight. That’s understandable, but it overlooks the important point that the new versions are actually quite good. True, there are some that remain boringly faithful to the original (Lavatory Lil - Josh Homme). Others though have been softened and chilled, particularly in the vocals (Find My Way - Beck). Yet more have been completely reinvented in the style of their re-creators (Pretty Boys - Khruangbin; Deep Deep Feeling - 3D RDN from Massive Attack) McCartney no longer sounds like an old man but neither has he been forced into donning the vocal clothes of someone he isn’t. This album is likeable whereas the original was admirable. McCartney exceeds the original here - with a little help from his friends.
Taster Track : Deep Down (Blood Orange Remix)
In Space : The Luvmenauts
This is a bit of a space oddity. It's very retro prog, and if that’s not a contradiction in terms I don’t know what is. The band clearly has a vision of a world but it’s not one that makes easy sense to a casual listener. I’m not convinced that the tracks are strong enough to stand on their own merits. They’re all instrumentals, a couple of them very cheesy lounge music. Predominantly though, this is the sound of old fashioned synth, prominent bass and occasionally martial percussion.
Taster Track : Spice Always Flows