Art Moore, Au Suisse, Bedouine, Rusty, Gwenno, The Smile
If You Listen To One Thing This Week, Listen To.....
An Stevel Nowydh - Gwenno
The joy of listening to an album in a language you don’t understand is that it opens a portal to a whole new way of listening. I'm not bothered about what the lyrics mean here, but I could listen to Gwenno singing them all day long.
Art Moore : Art Moore
Art Moore are an American trio with a strong line in woozy pop, accompanied by honest and identifiable lyrics.
Taylor Vick, who wrote the lyrics for these songs, has laid her personal life bare for all to hear. Not for her the sense that living a life that fails to match your hopes and dreams is something to keep to yourself. Not for her the pretence that everything is ok, or that a painted smile is needed to mask your true feelings. These songs cover the unbridgeable gap between dreams and real life. She finds it hard to settle for that.
Her lyrics are sharp and poignant. In ‘Sixish’ she sings of
“I think it’s time that you were taught again
The fundamentals of being a friend”
In ‘A Different Life’ she sings that
“Well in my dreams I live a different life”
(It’s interesting that this is their most downloaded track on i-tunes. I suspect that’s not because it’s the best, but because it strikes a chord with people.)
In ‘Habit’ she lets us know that
“I think of you out of habit.”
It’s a flat, downbeat dissection of unfulfilling relationships and lives that haven’t come up to scratch. Her vocals are strained and tired, yearning and on the brink of tears even.
As I type that, I wonder who would seek this out. The answer is pretty much everyone because the record is rescued by the sugar coating of the sweetest hummalong melodies I've heard for some time. ‘Muscle Memory’, ‘Bell’ and ‘Snowy’ have addictive, if subdued, verses and choruses.
Musically, it’s not a sound that is particularly new or radical but it’s done so well and is a pitch perfect backing for the songs.
Unfulfilled lives have never sounded so good.
Taster Track : Snowy
Au Suisse : Au Suisse
Au Suisse’s debut album may just be the best trip back to the days of New Romantics and discofied synth pop you ever take. I was impressed.
Au Suisse are Morgan Geist and Kelley Polar. Geist is an American producer, engineer and songwriting DJ. Polar trained as a classical violist but shifted into pop. It seems that if you want pristine crystal clear synth pop that follows a straight path from the heart of Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’, America is the place to look for it.
I was interested to see this described as another new genre, sophisti pop. It’s a good description though summoning up images of Bryan Ferry dancing away in Avalon. If this album were a heist it would certainly have been planned in the cocktail bars of Manhattan rather than the East End Bars of London Town.
There’s a long, long list of predecessors to this music taking in mid period Ultravox, early Depeche Mode, Duran Duran’s ‘Planet Earth’ all the way to cigarettes After Sex and Nation Of Language.
It’s a considered recording. You sense that each included element has been balanced against the impact of omitting it. Most importantly the synths are warm, not sterile.
And there are ear wigs galore. No, wait, not ear wigs. Ear worms. I meant ear worms. Just try the melodic ear worm linked to a disco beat in ‘Thing’. ‘Pain And Regret’ opens with the catchy inevitability of a tune that will take hours to shake from your brain once you allow it entry. ‘Vesna’ is hypnotic, like water dripping irregularly onto aluminium chimes. ‘Control’, with its exultant “I’ve got control. Hallelujah.” is an example of how synths can create a heightened atmosphere without swamping a song. ‘Eely’ took me so far back I thought I’d wake up in my mid 20s.
I loved every note on this record. It’s a tickle to the memory of your favourite New Romantic synth moments.
Taster Track : Pain and Regret
Tresor : Gwenno
This Mercury nominated album, full of scintillating pop touches and sung in Cornish and Welsh, is a delight from start to finish.
On one level this is an album, according to Wihipedia, that takes “an intimate view of the feminine interior experience, of domesticity and desire, a rare glimmer of life lived in and expressed through Cornish”. That tells you everything and nothing that you need to know.
The joy of listening to an album in a language you don’t understand - and even though I’m reviewing this as a male, I’m not talking about the feminine interior experience here - is that it opens a portal to a whole new way of listening. When you haven’t got a clue what’s going on, it makes pop strange and you listen to it anew. ‘Anima’ for example illustrates how your brain might hear it as folk because it’s sung in a traditional language, but musically it’s much more inventive than that.
There’s something otherworldly going on, not as detached from the real world as say the world of the Cornish pisky, but definitely something, say, like the land of Oz. It’s like entering a carnival by a side entrance and having to find your bearings. Everything about this album is more vivid and colourful than in real life, from the music to Gwenno’s makeup choices on the cover.
There’s such a lavish sound to enjoy in the mix of rhythm, effects, delightful touches and vocals that seduce and beguile like the sirens of the great myths. Whether it’s the relentless journey through ‘Ardamm’ or the tinkling keyboard cascades that decorare ‘Tresor’ or the calm introspection of ‘Tonnow’, there’s something to latch on to in every track.
Gwenno has a voice I could listen to all day, despite or maybe because i have no idea what she is singing about. It captures different tones and moods, from the bright, wholesome sound of ‘An Stevel Nowydh’ and ‘NYCAW’ to the darker sound of ‘Ardamm’.
I liked this album a lot. If it wins the Mercury Prize it will be a worthy winner.
Taster Track : An Stevel Nowydh
A Light For Attracting Attention : The Smile
This side project, featuring half of Radiohead and a Son of Kemet, is a masterful rock album that works for the head, the ears and the gut.
All enduring music, whether rock, pop, jazz, classical, or throat warbling, needs to spark feelings and emotions. The Smile deals in ones that most people would prefer not to feel, feelings such as fear, disgust and exhaustion. They occupy their own sonic universe and it’s one where hope, warmth and happiness are in short supply but criticism, disappointment and failed expectation loom large. There’s a menace in the air, the same kind that stalks Radiohead. It’s a ‘Thin Thing’ that makes mushrooms out of men.
And yet, despite all that there’s a thrilling beauty to latch onto. It’s in the strings of ‘Pana-Vision, the bass riff of ‘The Smoke’ and the insistent, obsessive and monomanic repetition of ‘We Don’t Know What Tomorrow Brings.’
This is a difficult and challenging but completely rewarding album. It’s built around Johnny Greenwood’s riffs, Thom Yorke’s vocals and Tom Skinner’s beats. The nearest they come to a pop record is the reference to Roxette’s mantra not to bore us but to get to the chorus. It takes on a more menacing tone here.
A Light For Attracting Attention is emphatically a rock album but to get the most from it you might need to adopt a jazz listening approach. Let it flood over you, experience the music in full and let individual elements come to the fore with further listens. Despite its tone, it’s a gentler album than you might expect, with just ‘You Will Never Work In Television Again’ heading down the road of scuzzy distortion that has marked out some of Radiohead’s work.
This is a powerful, very rhythmic record. It rewards total immersion.
Taster Track : The Same
....And The Rest
Waysides : Bedouine
Bedouine rifled her archive of previously unused songs to make this album. It’s a strong set of classic singer songwriter material, if not quite what I was expecting.
I can’t remember how I came across Bedouine. I’m guessing that she collaborated on another song adding grace, class and a touch of exoticism to something that needed it. A quick look at Wikipedia, suggested ample opportunities for influences from around the world to colour her music. She’s from a Syrian / American family, and has lived in both countries and Saudi Arabia. And, if all else fails, the Bedouin tribes are nomads wandering at will.
So it requires some initial adjustment when this album reveals itself to be comfortably mainstream. It’s not a disappointment exactly, more an anti-climax. With hindsight, there’s a clue in the cover which calls to mind the covers of Music For Pleasure albums in the 60s, a Nana Mouskouri image for the 21st Century. It feels like a safe listening choice.
You could, unkindly, refer to these songs as leftovers. They’re songs that didn’t fit earlier albums but unlike other albums that pull together past scraps they are treated with a unity that makes them whole.
Scratch the surface though and there’s more to these songs than that. She offers a reflective maturity, mulling over her experiences and drawing her own conclusions from them. It’s like catching a more grown up sister taking time out with her thoughts and guitar. Stillness pervades nearly every track as if the music was recorded alone once the busy part of the day was done.
These are simple, heartfelt songs filled with experience but without bitterness and cynicism. She has a nice line in lyrics such as “I don’t need the light if I’m not looking at you.” from ‘I Don’t Need The Light’. The exoticism missing in the sound is found in some of her poetic imagery and, on this form, her collected lyrics could keep a Book Club talking for hours.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that the songs are a little unvarying. Two stand out. ‘Sonnet 104’ is a nice duet with bass guitarist Guy Seffert, and ‘The Solitude’ is, by any measure, a great, quiet ballad that should be fixed to Radio 2’s playlists. It deals with more universal feelings too.
This is an album of attractive songs with their own voices. They didn’t always speak to me, but there’s an audience ready to listen out there.
Taster Track : The Solitude
The Resurrection of Rusty : Rusty
Elvis Costello’s first band - pub rock in its broadest sense with the emphasis on crafted songs rather than singalong attitude.
The full Rusty story is in this link, but in brief Rusty were around in the early 1970s, a four piece that became centred around Declan McManus (Elvis Costello) and Allan Mayes. They’re not very well known, mainly because all they could do was eke out a meagre existence playing a couple of gigs a week in front of small crowds. They wrote their own songs though and it was Elvis’ first experience of regular live performances. They also recorded an EP of six songs that lay unfinished. They lay unfinished, that is, until now.
Some mental gymnastics are needed to understand what we’re listening to here. The songs are fifty years old, but these versions aren’t. They’re not a time capsule back to the 1970s because they’ve benefitted from fifty years of experience as a headline act. If it’s true that your mobile phone has enough processing power to send a man to the moon, it’s also true that it could blow a 70s recording studio out of the water.
With that caveat, what we have here is a set of songs that stands up well and could fit into most of EC’s solo work since King of America. (Sorry Allan but, inevitably, EC is the main source of interest here.)
It’s a pub rock album. Let’s not forget that pub rock was one of the broadest genres we’ve ever had, serving to make a distinction between ‘real’ musicians and showmen - those playing four pianos simultaneously, using each limb, while wearing oversized, over the top clothes in overpriced and overcrowded arenas. Pub rock was the breeding ground for bands like Brinsley Schwartz (Nick Lowe), The Clash, Rockpile, Dire Straits, Ian Dury, Madness and a host of winsome singer songwriter types with a repertoire of sincere acoustic songs and obscure covers. We have a lot to thank it for.
Rusty, it’s clear, would have been a good night out. The spirit of Nick Lowe is all over this album and not just in the Brinsley Schwartz cover, ‘Surrender To The Rhythm’. It's also in the mindset of ‘I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind’. It’s tempting to imagine what Steve Nieve could have added to ‘Warm House (And An Hour Of Joy)’ ‘Maureen & Sam’ is darker and takes more risks. It’s not a surprise to learn that both partners recorded versions of this in their solo careers. There’s a country rock twang present here that foretells some of Elvis’s later songs and a timeless knack for storytelling is evident across the EP.
Of course, the interest in this EP is sparked by knowing it’s the genesis of Elvis. But I also feel that if Rusty were launched today, they’d be critically well received and a strong live draw.
Taster Track : I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind
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