Alfa Mist, Dot Allison, Houndmouth, Joan As Policewoman, Light Conductor, Matthias Lindermayr, Robin Guthrie, World Of Twist,
Album Cover of the Week
I really liked this cover, with its X ray leaves and realistic roots drawing. It reminds me of those fascinating medical sketches or the pastel water colours of an Edwardian Lady's Country Garden. It's simple and complex all at once.
This Week's Music
For once, this blog is appropriately named as half the albums are largely instrumental. Given that there are fewer notes on the scales than there are words in a dictionary, it's fascinating how varied these albums can sound.
I hope you agree.
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
Triptych : Matthias Lindemeyr
Here’s jazz that’s a joy to listen to, gently challenging in a lovely way.
Matthias Lindermayr is a German trumpeter but this album owes plenty to the other two members of the trio - Philipp Schiepek on acoustic guitar and Simon Popp on percussion.
The trumpet is a mournful, smokey instrument that sounds as if it regrets smokiong 20 a day. It’s ideally suited to this form of quiet jazz, the kind of jazz that conjures up playing for the love of it, lost in a world of your making, oblivious as cleaners tidy up around you. You won’t find too many notes here - every note and sound counts.
As played by Lindermayr it’s an instrument that triggers the imagination, helping to make connections that are personal to you. It’s as if the album has been recorded with you, and only you in mind. That’s a neat trick because it requires the musicians to restrain their own personalities to help you find your way through the music. ‘Triptych’ conjures up the sound of a home’s heartbeat in the middle of the night, with all the emotional baggage of safety and security that goes with that. ‘February 19th’ is a less formed, more expressive piece which called up an abandoned glove puppet exploring its surroundings. (Any therapists out there - I don’t need to know what that says about me!)
Lindermayr has the space in a trio to play what he feels, adding touches and nuances that aren’t repeated but linger long. Popp is knocking and tapping as much as drumming, creating a soundscape that allows the others freedom to play. Schiepek’s guitar playing is a delight, full of soft off beat rhythms, content to be in the background but making a massive contribution to the overall feel.
I didn’t have to search hard for a way into this record. It takes you by the hand and leads you on, meandering gently and picking its way.
It’s the loveliest jazz record I’ve heard this year.
Taster Track : Sanctuary
And The Rest...
Bring Backs : Alfa Mist
Alfa Mist combines jazz and rap to create an album that provides a good reason to explore musical genres outside your comfort zone.
Over the last year or so, I’ve given jazz a go and begun to learn how to respond to some of it and enjoy its benefits. Rap (or hip hop I think they are the same thing although purists would probably disabuse me of that) has remained a no go area. There are several reasons for that. It’s a generational thing, a cultural thing, a dislike of the glorification of violence that sometimes features, a failure to recognise that, like all forms of music, it’s changed since I first heard it and above all a belief that it simply wasn’t very good music to listen to.
But I had a sudden insight listening to this. Like jazz, like punk, like the very early forms of rock and roll, rap is music created by outsiders for themselves. And armed with that insight I was able to tune into this anew.
That’s not to say this is mainly a rap album. It’s first and foremost a jazz one. It has nice melodies, even as it falls into some of the pitfalls that annoy non jazz fans. ‘Taki’ is melodic but vulnerable to the criticism that there are too many notes and solos at play. ‘Attune’ is noodly. Often it raises the question “Where is this going next?” Trust it. It takes a scenic route but to a pleasant place.
The rap, where it features, is poetic in a real life 21st century way. It offers insights, sincerity and emotion. The lyrics are smart and sassy, vulnerable not self aggrandising.
Jazz and rap are two areas where Britain has innovation and talent to spare. Together they make for a listenable mix. This album is a gentle introduction to both genres as well as a satisfying listen for those more familiar with them.
Taster Track : Run Outs
Heart Shaped Scars : Dot Allison
This album of pretty and gentle folk is lovely but perhaps just too far the wrong side of slight to make a lasting impact.
This is delicate folk wrapped in nature and sung in a fragile voice. Listening to this is like eating candy floss or trying to move a spider’s web. The songs float out of the speakers and are in danger of being carried away by the wind. They’re the equivalent of Constable’s ‘The Haywain’ not Munch’s ‘the Scream’.
There are tracks with more substance. That comes from the guitar fleshing out ‘Constellations’ or through the persistence and insistence of the melody on ‘Can You Hear Nature Sing’
There’s an organic feel to the music. It’s rooted in nature - the nature of hedgerows, larks soaring and warm sunshine or gentle rain. Dot’s voice is filled with sad purity. When it comes together, as on ‘Love Died In Our Arms’, it’s a seductive sound.
This is an exceptionally pretty record, but that may not be enough to hook you in.
Taster Tack : Constellations
Good For You : Houndmouth
This collection of stripped back, self styled alternative blues is American to its core. It has its moments.
For the most part this is the sound of dark, uncomfortable and slightly grubby nights where the bedclothes could have done with changing a few days ago. America runs through these songs like fool’s gold through rock. They should know by now that drinking and cars are not a good life mix - but it’s part of the lifeblood of a good rock and roll song.
The songs here cover themes that are so embedded in rock’s history and DNA that they will win you over. They sometimes teeter on the edge of a canyon into the forgotten graveyard of lost Americana and anonymous 70s rock but pull themselves back just in time to avoid the fall.
What saves them is that generally the songs have good, simple tunes. They don’t always build or evolve so what you hear at the start is pretty much what you’re going to hear at the end. Their influences can be heard in Springsteen, low key Kings Of Leon and a version of the Eagles that’s on downers. It’s a stripped down sound with bass, drums and guitars coupled with a weary, flattened voice.
Thankfully, they keep the music light. It’s no crime to wallow in defeat and despair but it’s not always fun for the listener either. ‘Cool Jam’ and ‘Miracle Mile’ are highlights and ‘McKenzie’ is an excellent song that chugs nicely along, almost as far as indie rock territory.
Perhaps this album is really about boundaries, feeling trapped by them and not breaching them lyrically or musically. The exception is ‘Las Vegas’ which closes the album. It’s as if the hard work has been done in the earlier tracks and now they can slip into having fun mode.
Taster Track : McKenzie
The Solution Is Restless : Joan As Policewoman
This is a perplexing hybrid album of different genres and styles. I’m not sure that the results reward the love that’s gone into making it, and the effort required to absorb it.
Joan As Policewoman has been an interesting songwriter for years. I saw her a few years ago as part of Rufus Wainwright’s performing entourage and she certainly had stage presence. This album is a collaboration with Tony Allen, a Nigerian drummer who, sadly, died between contributing to this album and its release and Dave Okumu who was part of a Mercury Prize nominated band - The Invisible - who, sadly, have lived up to their name since.
I try not to be hung up on genre. Good hip hop music is good music. Unlistenable music doesn’t seem more listenable because you call it by another name. The difficulty here is that the singing style doesn’t fit terribly well with the musical style. It’s a terrible thing to write, but the best parts of this Joan As Policeman record are the bits that don’t feature Joan As Policewoman. That’s probably the hardest line I’ve had to write since starting this blog. The effort, care and attention that has gone into the 11 minute opening track ‘The Barbarian’ is evident, but the effect is just that it seems overlong. The informal outro to ‘Perfect Shade Of Blue’ makes it clear how much fun they were having in the studio, but it hasn’t come out in the record.
Strip away the vocals and you’ll find world music, jazz, trip hop of the Massive Attack kind and influences referenced that include Bowie and Talking Heads. The drumming is never less than interesting. The bass provides the kind of repetitive groove that can push you out of your chair and onto the floor. It’s the obscure lyrics and the stylised vocals that stop the songs from truly taking off..
‘Get My Bearings’ veers close to a recognisable chorus but shies away from it at the last moment. And there’s something to cling to in ‘Geometry Of You’ and ‘The Love Has Got Me’.
Sometimes an album simply doesn’t work for any one person. This is my such record, Here’s the Guardian review for an alternative, more positive take.
Taster Track : The Love Has Got Me
Sequence Two : Light Conductor
Light Conductor describe this as expansive drone, ambient and electronic music. It’s mainly the latter and, whilst it takes time to get up to speed, it’s worth the wait.
This album offers 4 tracks spread over 44 minutes. Tracks that need you to stay that sort of distance have to draw you in before you can lose yourself in their music. The opening track, ‘Splitting Light’ doesn’t succeed. It’s not typical of the genre or of the album as a whole. It’s not afraid to change direction, pace and style as it evolves. What begins with a hypnotic rhythm progresses to something harder and more urgent before ending with a vocalist - I’m not sure ‘singer’ is the right word - calling out to the universe. It’s become a call to arms and to action. It’s not often I hear a track of which I could say I liked some of it.
What the track does well, is to prepare you for what is to come. The album is a sonic journey, heading through space to the druids of a far off galaxy. This is an exercise in what you can do to stretch, extend and bend sound out of shape but still keep it musical.
It’s music that will appeal to our technical instincts rather than our emotions, to our brain and ears rather than our hearts.
It’s in the second half of the album that the music grows in strength and impact. Each piece has something to cling on to. ‘Pyramids In Slow Rotation’ has a 3 note repetition that’s nicely hypnotic. And three minutes before the end of ‘Life Under A Second Son’ I realised that I had lost myself totally in the music, was absorbed by it and had that lovely feeling of emerging refreshed.
It’s a clever album but, like space, a little empty. In the end it delivered what I sought though, so I’ll call it a qualified success.
Taster Track : Life Under A Double Sun
Pearldiving : Robin Guthrie
Here’s a collection of lovely, calming instrumentals that, nevertheless, feels a little unsatisfying.
Robin Guthrie was a founder member of the Cocteau Twins, who are one of the very few acts you can say sounded like no one else before or since. Having spent years apart from the mainstream, you can’t blame him for wanting some time to be a part of something rather than apart from something. That something is a not quite classical, not quite ambient and not quite pop.
It’s an attractive sounding album, layered and textured with haunting and gentle melodies. The overall feel is subdued prettiness imbued with melancholy. It’s lovely to listen to but it doesn’t reach out to grab you and it doesn’t demand to be heard.
It’s a collection that calls to mind moments on the edge of life - noticing some snagged gauze stirring in the breeze or stumbling across a summer’s evening amongst the debris of a garden party that hasn’t yet been cleared away.
It’s music for an interlude, a soundtrack for a film where nothing much happens.
No track wants to take precedence, and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell them apart. I can’t escape the feeling that it’s actually boring, bland and dull but the care with which its vested makes me want to like it more.
Taster Track : Ivy
Quality Street : World Of Twist
This enjoyable slice of an early ‘baggy’ style asks what might have been for World Of Twist.
World Of Twist have been described as the great lost Manchester band of the 80s. I stumbled across them back in 2018 as part of the 7 CD Cherry Red compilation ‘Manchester, North Of England’, an excellent, exhaustive and exhausting study of Manchester music from The Buzzcocks to Oasis. It’s taken me three years to follow up my interest. That’s my loss!
How did the world lose sight of World Of Twist? There’s a couple of reasons.
First, it’s their only album so there’s not a lot of stuff to remember.
Secondly, they’re unashamedly a pop band, not seeking to change the world but to give people a good time. They have the tunes and they have danceability. They don’t rely on studio effects for their sound. The ones they use are discreet, low down in the mix. It’s nice to speculate that, just as James broke through with the poppy ‘Sit Down’ World Of Twist would have used their pop nous to lure people into something deeper.
But I think that the main reason is that they appeared at a point of evolution in pop music. They’re, literally, the missing link between 80s synth pop and baggy indie dance. They’re not quite one or the other although they sound addictive. They’re pacesetters for the big names of 90s indie, and when the race is won no one remembers the pacesetter. You can hear their influence though on the poppier side of The Stone Roses and in the woozy psychedelia touches of the Charlatans
There’s not a weak track on the album, and time flies as you lose yourself in what is simply great pop music. Highlights include ‘This Too Shall Pass Away’, ‘Sweets’ and ‘The Spring’.
If music was a box of chocolates, World Of Twist would be the purple one in a tin of Quality Street. But if the coconut one, or the toffee log, or the strawberry creme were your favourite you’d find plenty of those in the mix too!
If you’d like to know more about the band and their influence there’s a 2011 blog from Louder Than War at World Of Twist.
Taster Track : The Spring