Coco, Deafheaven, Dean Wareham, Douglas Dare, Elbow, Jeb Loy Nichols, The Korgis, Lana del Rey,
Album Cover of the Week
A band from the 70s produce an album cover pointed fair and square at the child of the 70s. And more than that, the comic strip approach captures perfectly the idealised, hardly real sentiments on the record.
This Week's Music
From the sugar rush confections of The Korgis, via the decidedly tormented world of Douglas Dare to Deafheaven's black metal, it's been a decidedly broad listening week. Whether you're drawn to a giant bat or an angel of love unfurling its wings there's plenty here to catch your attention and, perhaps, fall in love with.
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
Coco : Coco
This simple and gorgeous album is filled with gentle melodies and harmonies that waft you away to a better place.
Coco released a number of singles last year while keeping the group members anonymous. The idea was not to boost the egos of the band members but to communicate directly with the listener, offering no preconceptions. We now know that the band are formed out of members of other acts who have produced great indie albums while remaining largely under the radar. Such a humble and modest attitude underpins a lot of the charm of this record.
I’m having to try hard not to gush uncontrollably here because this is an album that has made me go weak at the knees. It’s a record with gentle harmonies and melodies that lift your troubles and disperse them to the four winds. You’ll feel you’ve been given a glimpse of how life could be, how you want it to be. It’s true, there’s a touch of melancholy in the air, the kind of melancholy that comes with waking from a perfect dream. It’s a simple, affirmative, warm and accepting record.
It’s a record that combines the feel, if not the sound, of many influences. I jotted down the likes of the Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto, the more grown up parts of the Summer of Love, the pastoral folk pop of Lavender Diamond, the fragility of Emiliana Torrini and the quiet, self contained chill of Khruangbin if it was a little less woozy and a touch more focused.
I sense that dropping comparisons into the review won’t help. This record is one of the rare albums that creates its own musical universe, a bubble that contains all your good feelings and excludes the harsh, the threatening and the plain nasty elements of day to day life. Listening to this is a wistful experience as if it’s painting a scene of perfect happiness that is, and will remain, just out of reach.
Just put the record on. Don’t even make a conscious effort to listen to it, and it will work its magic for you.
Taster Track : All of them, but for the sake of the playlist I’ll choose ‘Empty Beach’
Kartoon World : The Korgis
(Here's a photo of chief Korgi and Album Cover of the Week winner, James Warren, and friend.)
They were big in the 70s / 80s but should have been bigger. This album of lush, pitch perfect marshmallow pop harks back to those times and helps to explain why.
Most people, if they think of The Korgis at all, remember their haunting ballad ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’. For me though, their stand out track was 1979’s ‘If I Had You’. It was a sugar rush of soaring pop melody, a confection of positivity and belief in the transformative possibilities of love. It was sweet, and cynicism free. We never know if those feelings were misplaced, if a heart was broken or a world eventually came crashing down. We have only the hope, the desire and the conviction that all will be well. Isn’t that pretty much what we need to face January?
Pure pop is all heightened drama and emotion, Think ‘Leader Of the Pack.’ Here, it’s provided both by James Warren’s vocals and the sampled voice overs scattered across the album. Its cornerstone is ‘Bringing Back The Spirit Of Love.’ It’s a more innocent version of Tears For Fears’ ‘Sowing The Seeds Of Love’, complete with equally addictive hooks and ear worms.
This album is dedicated to the 80s. There are enough references in the mix to maintain a whole evening of ‘Spot The Influence’. The top notes for me were the echoes of George Michael’s voice, the little flourishes of Wham at their poppiest and shades of the jaunty, down to earth everyday pop of Gilbert O’ Sullivan. Nick Lowe released an album in America called ‘Pure Pop For Now People’ The Korgis are unashamed to have turned this retro collection into pure pop for then people.
For everyone wallowing in misty eyed indulgence and welling up with nostalgia for such sweet sentiments there will be someone gagging on their Cortado coffee, too cool to play the love fool. I’m firmly in the first camp.
Taster Track : Bringing Back The Spirit Of Love
... And The Rest
Infinite Granite : Deafheaven
This album is not my usual listening fare, but its blend of cacophonous rock and reflective shoegaze turned out to be an exhilarating and thrilling mix - in places.
One of the pleasures / drawbacks (delete as applicable) of passively accepting listening recommendations on the basis of a two or three line review is that you don’t fully appreciate what you’ve bought into until it’s there. My earliest warning is usually googling the band just before pressing play to find out a bit of their history and musical style.
Six words leapt off the screen when I googled Deafheaven. Shoe Gaze. (Uh huh.) Black Metal (Gulp!) Black Gaze (Quick. Hide!). I now know what it is to quail. My only experience of black metal was a few seconds of Slipknot on a free magazine CD, the most intimidating few seconds of my musical life. Fortunately an inner voice whispered “ Be brave. Stand true.”
I struck lucky. The album represents a change of direction for Deafheaven towards something more melodic and accessible. My listening was filtered through relief and the record was nothing like as strident as I had feared.
It is, undeniably, a big, big sound but it’s much more than noise. In its quieter moments, and there are many, guitars chime, slide and meld together. In its louder moments it pounds towards white noise but in a way that is both exhilarating and thrilling, inspiring shocked awe. If black metal is the sound and experience of a planet exploding, this is the aftermath, the “WTF just happened and can it be put right?” moment. As they sing in ‘Lament For Wasps’ “Hell imagined” but not, thankfully, experienced.
The vocals are the biggest surprise. There are moments, at the climax of songs such as ‘Great Mass Of Colour’, ‘Villain’ and ‘Mombasa’ that return to the tormented, inhuman, throat driven sounds of Slipknot. In the main though George Clarke’s vocals are easy on the ear, even welcoming and seductive. The backing vocals help too. They’re blurred and dreamy, playing their part in softening the sound. Lyrically it’s a bit unfathomable in places but the impact comes from the mix as a whole.
I’m not pretending to be a fully fledged convert to music’s dark side, but I am now prepared to be more open minded about it, seeing it as a heart of darkness to be explored rather than the sound of an apocalypse now.
Taster Track : In Blur
I Have Nothing To Say To the Mayor of LA : Dean Wareham
This is an engaging record with a big musical heart, full of unexpected warmth and lo-fi charm.
It’s an object lesson in not judging an album by its title. ‘I Have Nothing To Say To The Mayor Of LA’ suggested an attitude that is spiky, arrogant and full of rejection. This is much more reflective than that. It’s less about taking opinionated aim at authority and more about how we came to be where we are today.
Dean’s an actor as well as a musician. That comes across in his delivery. His voice isn’t the strongest in X Factor terms, but it has an engrossing and gripping quality that invites you to listen. It’s a voice that’s similar to Lou Reed’s in his quieter moments.
This is a lo-fi, uncluttered record that presents its songs to the listener in bare light. They’re direct and unfiltered through a producer’s added touches - diamonds embedded in coal. The whole album provides space to demonstrate what everyone brings to the show, and what everyone brings to the show is very good.
The standout track is ‘Cashing In’. It has an immediate melody and a lightly exquisite string backing to the chorus that cuts like a cheese wire to the heart.
This is an album for people who like their music to be unfussy, while satisfying their desire for substance.
Taster Track : Cashing In
Whelm : Douglas Dare
Dare’s debut album is a difficult listen, but an intense and dramatic one that set out and remains true to his vision.
The best primer for this album is the black and white filmmaking of Swedish and Russian auteurs. I choose that word deliberately as it conveys the arty, possibly pretentious style that wins the hearts of a thousand students before life takes them down a road leading to the latest Bond film and ‘Frozen’.
‘Whelm’ means to engulf, submerge and bury. It’s the sheer weight of this record that stays with you and it’s undeniably oppressive in places. But all is not lost. Like cointreau, this album has a strong flavour that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but everyone should try it a couple of times at least.
Dare builds his atmosphere from the opening notes. He supplements the mournful piano with haunting keening vocals and the unsettling, disruptive out of time beats of, say, ‘Lungful’. Even where there’s a melody as in ‘Clockwork’ it approaches and recedes, remaining not quite tangible whilst making its mark.
He’s kith and kin with Nils Frahm in the mournful sound of his piano, but he’s more experimental at the expense, perhaps, of the hypnotic sequences and melodies that can make Frahm special. If Frahm took over Radiohead for a day around the time of Amnesiac, this is what could have emerged.
I first came across Dare with his third album ‘Milkteeth’. You can trace the route back to ‘Whelm’ from there but it’s a better place to start. This is because a couple of albums later he’s balanced the needs of his unique sound with a melodic sensibility that softens it sufficiently to draw you in.
This is a difficult listen, but it would be a shame if it were filed in the area of your listening catalogue that you never visited.
Taster Track : Clockwork
Flying Dream1 : Elbow
Elbow deliver a turn up for the books with an album that is almost, what’s the word, happy.
Guy Garvey’s voice is distinctive in a love it or be irritated by it kind of way, but here it works very well. We know his voice is suited to aching hearts, to tales of longing and regret. Here, it’s the sound of an aching heart surprised by finding happiness. ‘Six Words’, ‘The Only Road’ and ‘What Am I Without You’ rejoice positively in love. The effect on the music is to lighten the songs, render them accessible and, whisper it quietly, nudge them towards a poppier sound.
It’s a personal album, but one that involves the whole band. The backing vocals transform the typical Elbow sound into something scarcely real, more ghostlike, more dreamlike - and that’s dreamlike not in the sense of a fever dream or a nightmare, but in the sense of a dream from which you don’t want to wake.
It remains to be seen if this album marks an evolution of Elbow’s sound, or is simply a successful little detour along the way. Here, they have certainly shied away from stadium filler rock towards something more at home in an intimate club. It’s the seldom seen kid of Elbow’s music and it deserves its turn in the limelight.
Taster Track : Six Words
Chemtrails Over The Country Club : Lana del Rey
This was the first of two albums Lana del Rey released last year. It’s full of what she does best without stretching her boundaries unduly.
Lana del Rey can lay claim to being the voice of the digital generation. From her beginnings as ‘Lizzy Grant : Viral Sensation’ she has successfully created an unmistakable Lana del Rey sound. It’s compelling, drawing you into a scene that is never quite of the moment. It’s either looking back or pushing for change.
The sound is dark, melancholic, filled with sex, and simultaneously subdued and epic. Her lyrics are manipulative, gently but insistently ramming home her point. It can start to feel a little too much. She’s an oppressive obsessive, but a continually inventive one. Just sample the drums that take us out of the title track.
She may be the most cultured musician around at the moment. Without searching for them, there are direct and indirect references liberally scattered around the songs. She name checks The White Stripes, The Kings of Leon and Tammy Wynette. She quotes the imagery of Shakespeare and Elton John.
If there’s a criticism of this album it’s that the spotlight is on tone, not tunes. Think what she might achieve with more obvious melodies and a slightly more mainstream approach. She could produce songs that define an era, speak for a generation and be heard more widely.
Perhaps that thought is not a happy one and away from the public gaze, enmeshed in relationships that cause sadness and pain, is her natural home. She describes that space uniquely.
Taster Track : White Dress