Bogdan Raczynski, Federico Albanese, Hannah Peel and Paraorchestra, Jim James, Lucius, Parcels,
Album Cover of the Week
It's sometime s hard to choose an album cover of the week. It's rare to come across an album cover of such ugliness that it can only be a provocative attempt to repulse. I'll leave you to guess which one that might be
The cover I liked most was 'The Unfolding' from Hannah Peel and the Paraorchestra. It's an attractive combination of self contained segments and overwritten lines. It may not be immediately apparent, but the segments contain fundamental elements of the universe, from top to bottom sky, grass / soil, the moon, sand and stone. It's a way in to the album that I thought was quite clever.
This Week's Music
This week's albums include a couple that first edge towards and then , in one case, vault the dividing line to land firmly in the classical world. Don't be deterred by that. it's good music through and through.
Elsewhere we have examples of classic rock and classic pop as well as a glimpse of intelligence dance.
I'll keep you waiting no longer. Here we go....
Second Nature : Lucius
Lucius’ ‘Second Nature’ is a helping of glorious, mainstream pop that’s light and unpretentious but with more than enough quality to withstand repeated listens.
It’s quite a while since I was able to indulge and wallow in music such as this. Lucius pull off a noble purpose in defiantly pursuing pure pop, content to perfect its sound without looking to protest, experiment or push boundaries. That’s not damning with faint praise. They’ve collaborated with much bigger names to add a pop sheen to heavyweight songs. It’s their vocals you can hear on ‘I Don’t Live Here Any More’, the standout track on The War On Drugs’ last album.
Like Abba, they’re a four piece with the spotlight firmly on the two female singers. Like Kylie, they’ve perfected the kind of song (‘Dance Around It’) that sings directly to the working girls’ Friday night foray to the dancefloor. And like Haim’s younger, slightly more frivolous sister, they have the knack of good tunes.
Don’t come here looking for social comment or girl power. ‘The Man I’ll Never Find’ is more Charlene than Charlie XCX. It’s no anthem for female empowerment but it is an anthem for everyone who’s a romantic at heart and has experienced longing. ‘LSD’ doesn’t reveal an unexpected drug riddled wild side. Here it’s an acronym for ‘Love So Deep’ and the way that love can take you high. ‘Next To Normal’ may be a great lost Halloween song, a great slice of pop with a rising ‘Whoooo’ like every ‘ghost’ that ever confronted Scooby Doo and the gang.
Lucius should be huge, playing stadiums rather than social clubs and ruling the charts rather than banging their heads against them. This is an album to accept as reassuring comfort pop. It won’t challenge you. It won’t open up new horizons. But it will show you the sonic vistas that remind you of why you fell in love with (and to) Top Of the Pops all those years ago.
Taster Track : The Man I’ll Never Find
... And The Rest
Addle : Bogdan Raczynski
The album is categorised as ‘intelligent dance’ music. It’s dance music but not as we know it. I can’t hear it appearing on Strictly any time soon!
It’s undiluted by commercial considerations and probably appeals to the purist rather than the casual listener. To come quickly to the point, it’s an album that I couldn’t connect with rather than an album that I can say I like or dislike.
This is the sound that headphones pick up from an audio suite when, in true Toy Story tradition, no one’s around. The tracks seem to be made up of fragments. Like a toy box overfilled with toys that have started to come apart and don’t relate to each other, they could make something fabulous. But where do you start?
It’s difficult to discern the pattern to these tracks. It leaves me untouched, with nothing to react against or favour. It’s electronic randomness and until I can break through to its essence it leaves me cold.
Whatever it is I’m listening to, I can hear that it is stretching, bending and flexing more accessible forms of music. There’s a distorted flute effect that cuts through ‘ELDDA’ and provides a hook to cling to as you swing around the impenetrable rock face of the remainder of the album. There’s a glimmer of hope though. The album feels less strange as it progresses but a lot more work is needed before it begins to make sense.
There are times I’ll confess, when I’m unsure what I’m talking about. That’s not the case here. With ‘ADDLE’ I’m unsure what I’m listening to.
Whenever an album bamboozles and flummoxes me as this has, I return to the original review to remind myself why I chose it. May’s Uncut magazine reviewed it, and the key lures were phrases such as ‘mellowed’, ‘playful melody’ and ‘choral swoon’. A fuller, equally positive review is on line at The Quietus. They’ve identified and expanded on some of things that Uncut liked. It’s at The Quietus Addle Review.
Taster Track : ELDDA
Before And After Seems Infinite : Federio Albanese
Federico Albanese’s collection of nu classical and gentle electronica is a lovely listen, but he’s wrapped it in such a personal conceit that it feels a little underwhelming.
Rather than misinterpret it for you, I’m going to quote from the publicity material for a show he performed at the South Bank last year.
Each exquisite rendering is inspired by a specific memory, along with Marcel Proust’s suggestion that ‘remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.’
‘There are multiple ways in which we perceive a memory,’ says Albanese, who grew up in Milan and now calls Berlin home.
‘We might remember things from different angles and give them different meanings. I find it interesting to explore the instant where we decide how we are going to remember something. And music is the vehicle I use to find these moments, to hold them in time.’
This is powerful stuff, but it means that while we’re listening to this album we’re listening to a soundtrack for a man recovering memories that are not ours and are not shared with us.
I have a problem with that. He’s telling us this is music with a special power that is inaudible and invisible to us. To a sceptic, that’s as clear a case of Emperor’s New clothes as I’ve come across for a while.
So, let’s put the magical powers to one side and consider the music as it is to an outsider.
It’s a lovely collection of piano led nu classical tunes wrapped in a soft electronic gauze. It is soothing and relaxing in a William Orbit meets Enya under the influence of Olafur Arnalds kind of way. It conforms closely to the nu classical template and because of that it sounds a little safe.
Strangely, it feels like only half the story. It’s a feeling that’s given weight by the two tracks featuring guest vocalists. ‘Summerside’ features alternative folk singer Marika Hackman and ‘Feel Again’ features gruff but gentle rapper Ghostpoet. These songs feel complete. Elsewhere the tunes feel like accompaniments without anything to accompany.
It’s by no means a bad album but it is an anti climax given the build up.
Taster Track : Was There A Time
The Unfolding : Hannah Peel and Paraorchestra
This out and out classical record is an impressive collaboration between Mercury Prize nominated electronic and folk musician Hannah Peel, and Paraorchestra who adapt how they work to allow exceptional disabled musicians to play in a full orchestra. It’s an exciting and inspiring musical experience.
There’s no denying that this is a big project. It takes some vision and presents some challenge to risk commissioning an orchestral piece from a non classical musician, to accept leaving your comfort zone to collaborate with a full orchestra, doing so in a way that appeals to both your usual audiences and then taking as your subject the formation of the universe.
Immense credit is due for that to all concerned. It’s slightly irritating, that the achievement has been reviewed a bit sniffily. The Guardian , for example, felt that : This overly orthodox classical-electronic crossover only occasionally captures the spirit of natural and cosmic forces.
I prefer to think of this as a modern counterpoint to something like Saint Saen’s ‘The Carnival Of The Animals’ or Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’. (David Bowie narrated the latter straight after recording ‘Heroes’ at the height of his fame.) Although ‘The Unfolding' isn’t aimed at children, it's a commendable approach to open up classical music to people who would normally not give it the time of day.
It’s not really a blend of electronica and classical. The electronic parts take a back seat, faintly bubbling away beneath the surface on the title track and making only occasional forays into centre stage elsewhere.
‘The Unfolding’ is a good way to describe the 11 minute opening piece. ‘The Universe Before Matter’. It’s 11 minutes of slow build loveliness, with the surprise of unaccompanied woodwind mid way through, helping to create a sense of wonder. It’s a God’s eye view of the formation of the universe or, if you want to be more down to earth than that - just a little - it’s like watching dawn break over a magical kingdom from the top of a mountain.
The album is cleverly paced, the assembly of different musical parts to represent the bare bones of the universe that characterise the early tracks gives way to a fuller rendition packed with vibrant energy that bounces happily along.
Nothing here is alarming to the inexperienced listener. Nothing here will have you wishing to be elsewhere. Even the vocals are lyricless, becoming one more contribution to the overall sound.
If you’re wary of classical music, treat this as an appealing peek through the curtains at a different musical world. If you welcome it with open arms you’ll find much here to enjoy too.
Taster Track : If, After Weeks Of Early Sun
Eternally Even : Jim James
Jim James jams his way through a collection of weighty rock songs in this album from 2016. It calls to mind an unfashionable era of rock but provides some moments of genuine interest.
You shouldn’t judge an album by its cover, but the dishevelled, bling encumbered almost clown face on the cover conveys my fears before listening to ‘Eternally Even’. If it is a clown, it’s one of the scarier ones. It has something of the creepy hand on the shoulder towards the end of ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ video. I can’t decide if it’s the picture before or after listening to the record.
If I’m honest I had some reservations about listening to this. I have quite a bit of resistance to rock jams. My fear is that it’s long, ugly and indulgent. It has the feel of being at the heart of rock’s dark soul around 1970. There’s a part of me that’s drawn to it though, seduced away to the dark side from my nice, friendly, sweet indie pop normality.
Deep down I’m afraid I’ll like it.
When I finally get to the record it both confirms and dispels my fears. It’s bluesy, a little scuzzy and oozes straight out of the primordial soup that formed classic rock. ‘We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Part 1’ plays up to my preconceptions of a jam that may be of more interest to the performers than the casual listener. Taken together with ‘Part 2’ of that track it sounds as if they’d invested a lot of studio time in reaching their end point and felt they had to use it. But ‘Here Is Spirit’ and ‘In The Moment’ are as good an example of bluesy songs as you’ll have heard since the 70s and 80s.
Once you emerge from the extended intro to opening track ‘Hide In Plain Sight’ it’s reassuring to find that there’s a sluggishly catchy vocal line that snags the attention like the hook on a fisherman’s line in the Florida Keys. The trick is carried off in reverse by ‘Same Old Lie’. The treat on the album is ‘The World’s Smiling Now’ which breaks free of its tethers and spitals away taking the blues with it. I liked it. The relief that comes from that is similar to finding out that those ‘Deliverance’ rednecks are actually a welcoming crew.
Against the odds, I can hear its appeal. I’m grateful to John Marshall, an American Pop In The Real World member from, I think, Florida for opening my ears to something different.
Jim James. He may just be the 70s rock guitarist’s rock guitarist!
Taster Track : The World’s Smiling Now
Day / Night : Parcels
This is a 96 minute album of two contrasting aspects. There are blissful disco washed songs side by side with introspective, darker tracks. Both sides have their strengths and attractions.
If you Google the band Parcels, one of the entries that comes up is “Are Parcels gay?” I’m not going to dignify the irrelevance of the question with any research, but the question points to something you need to understand about Parcels. They’re not stereotypical Australians. The punk and bar rock brigade won’t be claiming them as one of their own. Any excesses favoured by AC/DC and Nick Cave pass them by. If they were cricketers it’s hard to imagine them as effective sledgers.
This is a strangely complex album. On the one hand there’s the gentleness of ‘Light’. It’s the sound of dawn breaking over Bondi Beach, and the blissed out euphoria of ‘Somethinggreater’. On the other hand there’s the more introspective feelings of exclusion that litter the rest of the album. Where the songs balance the two, as on the sunny sounding but unhappy ‘Outsiders’ the album hits a sweet spot. They show that the downside of a sunny day is that the shadows are darker.
There’s a cinematic, theatrical feel to much of the album. In its disco moments it captures the feel of Philadelphia’s MFSB. In its non disco moments it calls to mind Supertramp. In such a lengthy record, there are tracks such as ‘Daywalk, which are great, but push the record into the background. It has a lovely vibe but doesn’t have the substance to merit the record’s extended running time.
Ultimately, this is a record that is rescued by its own loveliness. I’ll settle for that.
Taster Track :Theworstthing
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