Learning How To Swim Through Empty Clouds

Starring


Brent Cobb, Courtney Barnett, Forenzics, Gale P, OneRepublic, Orlando Weeks, Papercuts, The Reds, Pinks and Purples,


This Week's Music


I've had to limit the number of albums in the 'Highly Recommended' category this week to avoid making the category meaningless. With one exception that irritated me, it's been a strong week. Long may it continue.


If you look at this regularly, you'll perhaps note a different order to things. The 'Album Cover of the Week' follows the reviews, and the playlist links round things off.


Here are the reviews.


Highly Recommended


Shades And Echoes : Forenzics


Tim Finn and Eddie Rayner were mainstays of Split Enz, the New Zealand band who met with some success in the late 70s and early 80s with songs such as ‘I Got You’. They’ve raided their past to construct an intriguing and wholly successful new album.


You may remember Split Enz, although they’ve sunk below the radar as music companies seek to mine the 70s and 80s for playlists and compilations. I bet you have no memories of Split Enz before their breakthrough hit ‘I Got You’. Neither do I. Although I’ve dabbled in their early work over the last 40 years or so, it’s always struck me as chaotic and all over the place.


Fortunately Finn and Rayner knew how to listen to it. ‘Shades and Echoes’ sees them mining their older songs for fragments of melody, bass lines, lyrics and anything else they can find to form the starting point for a brand new song. It’s no sophisticated exercise in sampling, more that they’ve taken a string of their musical DNA and reconfigured it to make something new.


It’s a fantastic beast of an album, as if an angel had landed amongst us - marvellous and slightly creepy at the same time. As I listened to these multi part musical items I kept thinking of someone like the Phantom of the Opera, a mysterious curator of the music of the night. ‘Cabaret’ came to mind also, a sense of the party going on regardless. The more recent comparable song that came to mind is Deft Punk’s ‘Touch’.


There’s more than a whiff of nostalgia about this. The decision to avoid their more popular later material makes sense. Too many memories are attached to those. This is more an exercise in musical deja vu.


The result is a panoramic, cinematic sound, a record that is a vibrant fairground of a record, brimful of imagination and surprises. There’s no logical reason that a song sung almost entirely in French, ‘Premiere Fois’, should appear, not why it should lapse into English momentarily before the end, but it works.


55 minutes might seem a long running time but it’s time well spent getting to explore what they’re trying to do. It’s musical archaeology to appeal to anyone with an interest in artistic creation, and it’s a collection of damn fine songs too.


Taster Track : Unlikely Friend.


Hifilofi Scifiwifi : Gale P


This is an excellent collection of songs, stripped back but not sparse, demonstrating the truth that less Is more


Gale Paridjanian is one of the founder members of Turin Brakes. They’ve produced consistently good albums since 2003. I’ve always liked that they were in choir at school, although you wouldn’t know that from their recordings.


If you’re not sure how to pronounce the title of this album, split each word after the second ‘i’. Everything else about this album is crystal clear. It’s an uncluttered acoustic selection, hushed and direct, focused on the basics of good songwriting. Limiting the songs to their essentials means that you better appreciate the individual instruments, and the guitar playing here is lovely.


There’s an innocence at play in the music. It is what it is and does not need to pretend to be grander or cleverer. ‘Zombie’ is more playful, throwing saxophone and noises ito the mix but it retains the basic simplicity, the home studio feel.


It’s a throwback to a time of sensitive singer songwriter types, who addressed their muse as ‘Girl’ - Hey Girl! - rather than by name. He does this in the closing track ‘Need To Know’. In the week of Valentine’s Day, learning her name might be helpful in winning her back!


This is good music to its core - one of the best singer songwriter debuts for some time.


Taster Track : All The Darkness


Hop Up : Orlando Weeks


This is a beguiling and warm collection of songs celebrating the joy and love of new parenthood.


We know that new parenthood isn’t all bliss and harmony, with crying babies, chronic sleep deprivation and frightening responsibilities leading to a world where the dream can feel like a nightmare. This album overlooks those feelings to concentrate on the sweet spot when all is good. This is an out and out love album, filled with helpless, joyful and unconditional wonder.


It’s an enchanting and gently grooving blend of melody and effects - including whistling on ‘Deep Down, Way Out’. Musically it stays light, but is always interesting. It’s littered with sounds for baby, musical and vocal. In places it uses the repetitive, gentle singing you offer to a baby to hold their attention and build a bond. It builds a sense of connection for grown ups too. The female backing brings a sense of togetherness.


This is a record that generally prioritises tone, texture and rhythm over verses and choruses. It’s a soothing caress of a record, a warm pool of positive emotion spreading across the headphones.


It’s a rare treat to share a pure hit of the feel good factor without tumbling into something sickly sweet and irritating. Orlando Weeks has achieved exactly that and this record adds to our happiness too.


Taster Track : Deep Down, Way Out


... And The Rest


And Now Let’s Turn To Page… : Brent Cobb


Brent Cobb’s collection of country hymns is an unexpectedly happy event, the kind that could send the masses back to mass.


He’s usually a 36 year old country singer with southern rock tinges but here he’s leading the church in song. Country music with religious songs. It’s enough to have a lot of people feeling awkward but think of it as you think of a barn dance. You may feel self conscious, but give in to the occasion and you soon begin to enjoy yourself.


Religious songs , in whatever coat of musical colours you dress them, tend to serve two purposes - communal singing and personal testimony. Cobb covers both. ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’ lilts like hymns of old. ‘Are You Washed In The Blood’ is best described as rock gospel. It’s not bad. Actually rock lends itself to gospel quite well. ‘Softly And Tenderly’ is anything but, providing euphoric exultation. Flip it over and you have the sound of Merry Clayton driving out demons with Mick Jagger on ‘Gimme Shelter’.


Part of the enjoyment to be had from this album is that it is unforced. It’s hard to hear what he adds to a song like ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ but it doesn’t matter. It’s the right song for this album. On ‘Old Country Church’ he and the band seem to be having an indecently good time, but it could be the best way to lure people back to church.


This is the sound of a smile and a good time at the Sunday Service. It’s the sound of happiness and contentment.


Taster Track : Are You Washed In The Blood?


Things Take Time, Take Time : Courtney Barnett


Courtney Barnett’s songs tell of ordinary life, and are all the more compelling for it.


My memory of Courtney Barnett’s earlier work may be mistaken, but it’s one of grungy guitars and harsh sentiments. It’s been a while since I listened to her I’ll admit but it’s the impression I brought to this record.


That’s why this record seems like a transformation, and it begins with the opening track, ‘Rae Street’. It grows out of my memory, softened by piano notes and backing vocals and moving to something glistening and new like a grass snake shedding its skin. She’s changed from producing slightly raw but melodic music to something more gentle but just as powerful.


She moves from grunge to something that jangles and sparkles with the best of lo fi pop - a lo fi pop with new wave and power pop flourishes. She likes her words and she’s good with them, not acerbic like Elvis Costello but like Joe Jackson in his world of troubled relationships and melodic, everyday soap operas.


It’s that connection to the world and real life that helps this to stand out. She’s not lost in a world of her personal turmoil but at home in the world while continuing to see its flaws. There’s an episode of ‘Friends’ where Chandler believes he’s splitting up with Monica because they’ve had a row. Monica has to explain that normal relationships contain rows. Arguments aren’t fatal. Courtney recognises and soundtracks that.


In the end this is an optimistic album from the kind of singer it’s good to keep nearby when you need a sense of perspective.


Taster Track : Before You Gotta Go


Human : OneRepublic


There’s nothing wrong with this album of songs aimed fair and square at generating widespread radio and streaming plays and tie in marketing opportunities. That’s what’s wrong with it.


OneRepublic sound as if they are everywhere. They’re oozing out of every franchised radio show that you can stand for 15 minutes. They’re straining to be featured on every talent show - their singer, Ryan Tedder, is an actual talent show judge - and they’re part of the backdrop to every trendy boutique. It’s unlikely that you could hum any of their songs here and now even though they’ve sold more than 16m records.


In essence they’re filler for radio shows. That’s what they are there for and, as I wouldn’t want to imagine a world without radio pop, they have my gratitude for their contribution.


This album is the equivalent of an evening spent snacking on crisps, honey roasted peanuts and Bombay Mix, momentarily anticipated as something pleasurable but ultimately unsatisfying and leaving you a little queasy.


The trouble is, this record is totally processed and false, faking depth and lacking substance. It’s totally lacking in ambition other than to fit in with what algorithms tell us people want to hear. This is music for cyborgs. All the vocals are treated so that they are not quite human. All the music is produced to sound not quite real. It’s synthetic sweetener rather than sugar; chocolate flavoured rather than chocolate.


There’s a OneRepublic - don’t get me started on the formatting of their name - template which starts with a skittering semi spoken verse. The skittering mimics nervous tension and high emotion. It’s a technique that avoids the need to live a life and write songs that are invested with sincerity and genuine feeling.


So, why have I listened to this? I couldn’t stomach the bonus tracks that come with every streamed version of this record so why have I given up 40 minutes or so of my life to something that, deep down, I knew would wind me up? FOMO. The fear of missing out on a song that might just capture the mass imagination and become the sound of a moment in time, or attached to a memory. As they sing on ‘Wanted’


“I’m holding to the notion that I’ll find something real.”


‘Wanted’ is the most / only interesting song on the album because, unintentionally, they might be singing about themselves, not just the imaginary everygirl of the lyrics. Perhaps it’s OneRepublic who:


“...just need to be wanted

I could use a little love sometimes”


Love as a product like washing powder or moisturiser. It kind of sums this album up.


The Daily Cal - a student newspaper form Berkley, California - provides a view from their more likely audience here. The Daily Cal OneRepublic Review.


Taster Track : Wanted


Parallel Universe Blues : Papercuts


This is a rough and ready, but appealing return to the early days of indie pop. It’s the kind of album made for listening to on cassette!


It’s not often that a whole musical genre springs up around a free magazine cassette, but when the NME gave away a cassette of up and coming bands under the label C86, they started something special. More recently, the Cherry Red record label have reissued those songs and added to them with new compilations, C87, C88 and beyond. Papercuts would fit right in.


This is music that takes us back to basics. It sounds as if the singer, guitars and drums have been positioned in front of a couple of microphones and told to play. What results is a feeling that the thrill of composing and performing has trumped any desire to add gloss and polish. Whack out the songs in a couple of takes and move on to the next one. It takes a lot of work to sound that spontaneous. I quite like that about this record.


The album opens with an oddly distorted wall of sound, the voice and melody gradually emerging from the noise storm. Central to the sound is the percussion, higher in the mix and higher in pitch too. What they play is what you hear and it sounds unfiltered through too much production.


The sound is muddy, deliberately so. It recreates the sound of bands on the way up, slightly forced as if it’s not yet coming quite naturally to them. They’re on their sixth album though and it came out in 2018, so they know exactly what they’re doing. The master of this approach is Jonathan Richman, and they’re in the same ballpark.


For preference I like a cleaner sound, but I also prefer artificially flavoured cider to sediment riddled scrumpy. It’s a matter of taste.


Papercuts exist in a time capsule of their own making. They’re like fireworks burning bright before fading away forever, fossils preserved in rock (pun intended) to be carefully released, fully formed.


The delight from music such as this is that every track holds the potential to uncover undiscovered gems.The pleasure comes from the reminder that great music grows from humble beginnings like roses from a stick of thorns.


Taster Track : How To Quit Smoking


Summer At Land’s End : The Reds, Pinks And Purples


Having discovered The Reds, Pinks and Purples and his album ‘Uncommon Weather’ just before Christmas, this new release has come around quickly. It’s regarded as the 4th movement in a sequence of albums and it’s a winner again.


Listening to this is like the second date in the first flush of romance. Anticipation is high and the pleasures are still fresh. ‘Summer At Land’s End’ is more of the gorgeous same but less murky sounding as if breaking out of the surface of a lake into the open air.


Every track sparks the idea of a hazy slowed down act of remembrance, as much in the instrumentals as in the fully fledged songs. I can’t shake an image in my mind of a man in an empty white room reflecting on events. Heaven knows where it came from but it fits the music well.


Much of the impact comes from his voice which is simultaneously singing of things past whilst sounding as if it could wrap itself around you like warm and comforting bubble wrap.


Second time around the influences are clearer. The songs distil the magic of Durutti Column and the 4AD record label without losing their accessibility. ‘I’d Rather Not Go Your Way’ is heartbreaking, particularly where the strings join in, a little twisted out of shape.


He’s included a couple of instrumentals this time around. They’re just as beautiful and effective, building an impression of his feelings just as well as the sung pieces.


If the melodies are a little less obvious that’s not a problem. They’ll work their way into your brain soon enough. And if it doesn’t quite match the thrill of your heady first love for ‘Uncommon Weather’, it comes close.


Taster Track : Pour The Light In


Album Cover of the Week


I liked the design of Courtney Barnett's album 'Things Take Time, Take Time.' And I liked too that it showed an artistic bent that reflected the album within, with its shades of blue and suggestions of the record as a work of art.


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. 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

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