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In The Bleak Mid Winter, The Sound of Angels Sweetly Playing

Starring


Lloyd Cole, LP Giobi, Matthew Halsall, Oren Ambarchi Johan Berthling and Andreas Werlin, Pale Blue Eyes, Pearl & the Oysters


The Front Runners


Light Places : LP Giobi


Oh, melodic beats and chilled house, why have you laid so low? It’s taken this album from LP Giobi to reveal your slow burning delights to me.


LP Giobi is a DJ / Producer who’s worked with the likes of Royksopp and Taylor Swift. She’s trailblazing a path to increase the pitiful number of producers who are women. (Just 2%). This is her debut, and if debuts are auditions to a wider audience, she’s absolutely smashed this one. It’s a masterclass in maximising the appeal of chilled dance. She ‘s like an acrobat or a magician. What will she pull out from her box of electronic dance tricks next?


‘If Love Is A Skill’ blends dance rhythms, beats and piano with jazz infused vocals courtesy of Sofi Tukker. The drum breaks in ‘Georgia’ lead in screaming, whether in ecstasy or fear I’m unsure. ‘Follow The Loop’ is a good time, smiling duel with her collaborator Le Chev. ‘All In A Dream’ rolls slowly but gloriously and repetitively by, like a long awaited natural phenomenon. 


It’s ‘All My Life’ though that smashes the ball out of the park as if she’s been learning from Bazball, (American readers can insert the name of their favourite baseball striker.) Within its four minute running it transforms brilliantly, unexpectedly and euphorically into something that brings an evening to a glorious close.


LP Giobi fishes in the American Idol pool for some of her guest vocalists. She’s doing them a favour, allowing them the space and profile to succeed on their own terms. Make no mistake though. This album is all about the music. The vocals are the final touch of adornment.

This is music to lighten your day, soothe your stresses and give you a good, good time.


Taster Track : All My Life



An Everchanging View : Matthew Halsall


Ok. Don’t read this review. Instead, reach for the nearest thesaurus. Look up ‘gorgeous’, and all the words you find there will apply to Matthew Halsall’s album of jazz compositions.


I’ve deferred listening to Matthew Halsall for several years. There was always something more pressing to listen to, something that I felt would be more suited to my mood. Why, oh why, oh why have I waited so long?


Halsall is a trumpeter by trade and he also runs Gondwana Records - the home of much of the best contemporary jazz around these days, jazz that’s as close to electronica  as anything else, from the likes of Portico, Mammal Hands and Hania Rani. It’s like a family, and that warm sense of security runs through many of their releases.


Simply put, this is music that melts away stress like deicer on a frosted car window. It’s music like sunrise tinted clouds seen from a plane window. This is lullaby music for stressed grown ups. The mellow tones of ‘Water Street’ redeem the recorder from decades of abuse in primary school concerts


Part of the effect can be found in the water sounds of ‘Mountains, Trees and Seas’ or the birdsong of ‘Field of Vision’. This is no collection of new age noodling though. The precise, controlled playing ensures that the album avoids that fate, as do the earworm melodies of, say, ‘Jewels’. You’ll invite them to stay all day.


In every track, muted and unjarring notes embrace and caress you. The tapped, hushed cymbals that break through in ‘Jewels’ - brilliant! ‘Calder Shapes’ takes us deeper into a looser jazz format but don’t be alarmed. Its sinuous melodies keep it accessible.


Sometimes it's tempting to suspend critical judgements and sink into the music as it wafts around. This is one of those times. Enjoy it.


Taster Track : Jewels



This House : Pale Blue Eyes


This is a vey good album of shoegaze and synthpop that treads a careful balance between the carefree attitudes of youth and a growing sense under the surface that all may not always be well.


For the most part, this is snappy, crackly pop, music to kickstart your day. It’s shoegaze on caffeine and crashes over you like a breaking wave, becoming your whole world while you’re immersed in it. 


It has the feel of  a sixth form experience. Youthful, carefree and impatient to get on with life, tracks such as ‘More’, “Simmering’ and ‘Hang Out’ are full of pent up energy. ‘Heating’s On’ reflects the comfort of home, the security of a base where you have a bedroom of your own. But ‘Our History’ introduces a sense of looking back on this time once you’re untethered from it. It’s a rare album that can pin such complex feelings.


You’re taking a chance when you end an album of three and four minute songs with a seven minute epic. Thats’ the role assigned to  ‘Underwater’. It grinds its way insistently to end in something industrial that goes against the lightness of touch that characterises the rest of the album. Unfortunately it ends the album on a downer, a rare misstep in a high quality album.


Musically, this is an album of vocals blurred in the mix of great bass lines, sharp drums and a maelstrom of synths. It’s an enjoyable and occasionally exhilarating style. 


It’s greedy, I know, but I kept waiting for the 5/5 track, the track that would mark it out as a classic. It doesn’t quite arrive. This is a solid album of 4 /5 tracks, consistently good and with the bar set high, but ultimately a little samey across the length of an album.


That said, it’s also an album that marks out Pale Blue Eyes as fit to spend time in the same company as Nation of Language and Teleman. That’s not bad at all.


Taster Track : Our History




The Chasing Pack


On Pain : Lloyd Cole




When you call your album ‘On Pain’ you’re setting expectations that this won’t be an upbeat, uplifting listen. That doesn’t prevent it from locking into the strengths that Cole has broughtto the table for nearly 40 years.


This is best described as a mature album. He has the experiences to reflect on, and has developed the breadth and skills to keep his music contemporary. Even so, this album may be as close to the strengths and style of his early work as he’s ever been. In ‘You Are Here Now’ he sings that  “all it takes is one moment of perfect clarity”. These songs are those moments.


It’s been nearly 40 years and it’s time to look back and reflect. For Cole that means revisiting the hurts, the wrong turns and the mistakes. In ‘On Pain’ he’s almost seeking praise for the hurts he’s caused. It’s a lyrically great song.


The songwriting is as good as he’s ever produced. Songs are generally quiet and looking within. Melodies are there, but more subdued than of old. His electronic impulses and instincts add to the songs without overwhelming them. The alternate lead and backing vocals of ‘It Can’t Be Happening’ are cleverly done, as is the way the lines are cut in ‘More Of What You Are’. These songs are as much a literary achievement as a musical one.


Vocally, he sounds more weary. If the production sometimes sounds as if it needs to clear its throat, that’s in keeping with the tone of the songs. They sound like a high performance car you’ve discovered under a tarpaiulin in a barn after many years. It starts first time, but the engine sounds a little worn and rough.


At 62, Cole may be moving to elser statesman status, but he hasn’t lost what broughthim to attention in the first place.


Taster Track : The Idiot




Ghosted : Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling and Andreas Werlin


A curiously compelling and hypnotic set from jazz musicians Ambarchi (guitar and, I’d say, electronic effects) Berthling (bass) and Werlin (percussion). It’s the kind of experimental jazz that gives experimental jazz a good name.


Let’s take it track by track, with the occasional general comment thrown in for good measure,


The first track, imaginatively called ‘l’, is in a difficult place for listeners who aren’t sure what to expect. It needs to set the scene and stand on its own merits. ‘l’ does both. It’s a kind of acoustic shrug, with a bluesy base. It prepares you for a series of improvised jams but improvised by musicians who are in complete control, who feel free to bring their ideas to the party. This track grows in hand clapping and finger clicking intensity before fading away like a carnival procession passing by. It’s surprisingly enjoyable like a stern teacher who gives you an unexpected half day holiday at the end of term.


Second track ‘ll’ - you’ll be getting the idea on titles now - highlights that at the core of esch of these tunes is a groove. The groove is a bare Christmas tree to which the other musicians bring the decorations. It has the hypnotic appeal of a radio call signal from the days before FM., and it’s good.


‘Ill’ is the centrepiece. It’s over 16 minutes long and is slower moving and bigger on atmosphere than what’s come before. It shows that all the tracks here contain a compressed power that slowly unfolds. Here it’s almost brainwashing in its effect. The groove is a blindfolded volunteer who can only guess what’s happening from the reactions of the audience. It is easy to enjoy this album which does not drag at all.


Finally ‘iv’, by some way the shortest of the tracks here at under five minutes. It’s the most electronic and the most abstract. Its groove comes from a beat that’s like a ticking clock. Maybe it’s testimony to the power of what has come before but it feels like the least satisfying moment here.


This album is a classic example of an album that proves highly enjoyable if you set any expectations and reservations to one side. Go on. Try it. What have you got to lose?


Taster Track : ‘l’




Coast To Coast : Pearl & the Oysters


Looking out the window at rain falling on the sodden earth, Pearl & the Oysters provide the burst of sunshine and colour that is exactly what’s needed.


Phoenix (the French pop band) meets Phoenix (Arizona - well its warmth and sunshine anyway!) Or to put it another way, France meets LA in a combination of French pop style and LA yacht rock, lounge grooves. It’s a lounge album charged with electronic bleeps and cabaret strings, an album full of sunshine and colour.


Listen to ‘Paciific Avenue’ and you’ll hear music for an impossibly colourful aquarium or for skating through crowds on a Californian promenade with a warm sea breeze in your face. Throughout the album you’re treated to things that are familiar, yet as alien as Christmas on the beach.


These are songs full of wonky guitars, bubbles, bleeps and squelches. The sound of summer insects runs through the album. Nothing overcomes the prevailing mood. Even ‘Read The Room’ featuring Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, tempers its rockier guitars with a cascading chorale of pop synthesisers, a combination that works as well as cheese on a mince pie. 


All of these songs are too artily engaged for a bubble gum melody but they’re acutely accessible nonetheless. They’re light, breezy and enjoyably insubstantial.


Listen to this after dark or before light with the curtains tightly drawn. You’ll imagine that Summer has come early.


Taster Track : Pacific Avenue


Playlists


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.


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